New York, Nu York: Walking (Jewish) New York

I like to walk. I like to bike. I like to walk and bike in New York City. And during the past three weeks I have had a wonderful time walking in various New York City neighborhoods, and showing groups of people Jewish New York. Or to be more specific, historically Jewish New York. During these past three weeks I have led five walking tours of Lost Synagogues in the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn, three of the five boroughs of New York City.
(And I have been very pleased to have led these groups of eager walkers because I had no one show up for three bike tours that I had designed. It has become very apparent to me that more people are interested in my walking tours!)
On the morning of Sunday, July 10th I conducted a Bronx Lost Synagogues tour, shepherding a group of 34 adults (and two toddlers in a double stroller) as we walking around the Grand Concourse and a few nearby avenues (Gerard, Walton, Creston, etc.) to look at a dozen former synagogue buildings. During the evening of Tuesday, July 19th I took a group of five adults to see former synagogues (some in rather poor shape) in parts of Brooklyn such as Williamsburg and Bed-Stuy. The next evening I conducted a tour for eight people throughout the Lower East Side, to see former and current Jewish structures, and the evening after that a cheerful couple accompanied me as we walked the streets of lower and central Harlem, to see former synagogues. And to top it off, the evening of Wednesday, July 27th I brought an impressive 40 people around to see a few former shuls in the East Village/Alphabet City region of Manhattan. That fifth tour was sponsored by the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy, and it was the first time that I got to use a portable microphone system with an amp.
What kinds of people show up for these tours? As far as I could tell, all or the vast majority were Jewish, but they ran the gamut of observance levels and ages. Several had personal ties to the neighborhoods we toured but others did not, and thus came out of curiosity. In fact, a number were not born in New York City nor even in the United States. Overall they joined my tours to learn about how Jewish life has changed over time in New York City, particularly when it comes to demographic shifts.
Leading these tours is very gratifying for me, and I relish the role of being an educator outside of the classroom. (No test grading! No filling in bubble sheets for attendance! Highly interested and motivated students!) And one of the benefits to me of conducting these tours has been that I have learned a lot from the people in my groups.
During the East Village tour we briefly stopped by a former synagogue on East 6th Street (451, to be exact) that had served as the Proskurover Zion Congregation. I spoke about the building and pointed out remaining external Judaica, on a building that is now private residences, when one of the women in the tour group spoke up and said "I'm from Proskurov."
About twenty minutes later when we were inside another former shul (at 256 East 4th Street) I invited the woman from Proskurov to speak to us all about her memories. The woman, who is in her late 60s, told us that she had been born there but did not remember much about her life there. I followed up by asking her if she knew that our tour group would be stopping by a synagogue founded by people who came from her home town; she said no. But she was grateful for this unanticipated link to her past, and that I helped her to get in touch with her roots, in some fashion.
I plan out these tours and I assume certain things will happen, certain questions will be asked, certain observations will be made. They are somewhat standard by now. But each tour really does have its unique factors, its surprises and revelations. I cherish this.