From 1881 through 1914, approximately 2 million Jews immigrated to the United States from Europe. An estimated three-quarters of them settled in New York City, primarily in the Lower East Side. Over 75,000 of these immigrants were from Romania, where Jews faced antisemitic laws, violence and expulsion. These hardships, combined with low crop yields and economic depression, resulted in 30 per cent of the Jews in Romania emigrating to the United States.
Romanian Jewish immigrants in New York City gravitated to a fifteen-block area bounded by Allen, Ludlow, Houston and Grand streets. This "Romanian quarter" became the most densely populated part of the Lower East Side, with 1,500 to 1,800 people per block. These immigrants founded the First Roumanian-American congregation, also known as Congregation Shaarey Shamoyim.
The origins of the congregation are disputed; its establishment in 1885 may have been a re-organization of a congregation originally founded in 1860. Located initially close to the Romanian quarter at 70 Hester Street, and later situated at the heart of it with the move to Rivington Street, the synagogue was the preferred house of worship for the quarter's inhabitants.
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