July 18, 2024
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July 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Last I saw Bram in person was post-Pesach, when he received the Outstanding Soldier of the Year award from his IDF division. Parting was bittersweet as he is instrumental in our family business, The Historic Blue Moon Hotel and Sweet Dreams Café, which are located at 100 Orchard Street opposite the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. Our family has done much to help preserve the Jewish Lower East Side by housing the displaced Eldridge Street Congregation for more than seven years, gratis, and have now provided a restaurant, Sweet Dreams Café, for a community that has been bereft of one for five years. Our hotel is a continuous gift in that it memorializes the age of mass Jewish immigration and houses a gallery that encapsulates the personal effects detailing the lives of the Jewish tenement dwellers and merchants that inhabited the building. The Historic Blue Moon Hotel is acknowledged by National Geographic as “One of a Hundred and Fifty in the Western Hemisphere to Check Into,” among other prestigious awards, and has been the subject of articles in The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times, as well as in videos.

This unique Jewish concern with a Yiddishe taam was a labor of love done without contributions or grants and came at great expense to create and maintain. We were devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic and were forcibly closed and disenfranchised for 18 months. In 2015 due to family concerns, we leased the hotel. The tenant hijacked it into a 100-bed hostel, trashed it and returned the keys to our once-glorious and now severely damaged and defunct hotel. The lender drained our account monthly, leaving no funds even for living expenses, and all we could do was clean the mounds of debris left behind in order to try in a moribund real estate market to catch someone’s interest. It was a devastating experience and the family prayed fervently for salvation.

 

Counting Down the Miracles

Pre-enlistment: When my son Bram heard the news, he rushed back to the U.S., bringing positivity and good energy, and infusing hope at a hopeless time. He landed at JFK, and we went to catch a minyan at the Ludowviska Shul and met our first volunteer, a Crypto Hispanic Chabadnik Dovid Delvalle, who showed up daily on his trademark scooter.

Next miracle: We got a call from Rabbi Wiener’s JCC offering an assortment of formerly incarcerated, recovering addicts and a few inexperienced young adults. I looked at Bram questioningly and he enthusiastically uttered, “Yes, take it.” Thus began our restoration team, sanding and refinishing a ubiquitous ocean of historic woodwork. Bram and his brothers dismantled the hostel bunk beds, ripped out the carpets and laid new flooring. Much of the salvageable items went to tzedaka and the homeless.

Miraculously, we revitalized every square inch of the hotel, and after seven months came the long awaited COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan needed to shore up the infrastructure, exterior, elevator, restore the HVAC, kitchenettes, windows and cement work, and build out a commercial kitchen and bakery.

A Miracle Eclipsed by A Greater Miracle

Incredibly, in the harshest real estate climate, I negotiated a lease with the city that could abate the rapidly accumulating debt only to be circumvented by an overreaching lender, in order to commandeer the rents.

 

Resurrection of the Dead

The only choice was to reopen the legendary hotel. However, without furniture, bedding and IT, it was an impossibility. During this time, I had communication with an EU company that had interest in representing the hotel to secure a presence in the NYC market, and unbelievably offered a loan of funds to secure furniture and fixtures, which would be paid back with interest over the first year, and so we were on our way to reopen. Bram, with his immense chen, dealt with all people, tirelessly applying himself in all the physical and business aspects of daily operation. He directed the shipping and receiving and distribution of the furniture and furnishings. He was unsurpassable with arranging the bookings and in procuring the highest occupancy, as well as being of valuable assistance watching for theft and maintaining security.

 

Bram Gets Called Up and New Challenges Begin

Just as we are moving forward, Bram’s commitment to returning to IDF duty arrived. Ironically just the night before I dreamt he was a little boy, and I was squeezing him so tight I didn’t want to let go. Indeed, it was extremely hard to let him go even in ideal circumstances, let alone at this pivotal time in our family business, when he was the only one I could truly rely on. He is the template for his siblings; he leads by example and unites them to work together for their economic existence. It is true that what we lost financially from the pandemic is beyond the capacity of a family. However, what our children gained in a work ethic and the ability to strive as a family is invaluable.

When Bram is not on the battlefield, his foremost concern is for God, home and country.

We are doing fabulously well, yet highly challenged by associated costs of the pandemic. Unfortunately, much weight and value placed on art, preservation and family business can only receive assistance from a public that honors genuine values. The contribution of the hotel to the Jewish community at large is at the heart of Bram’s family legacy. We welcome you, readers, to come and visit our authentic Jewish memorial to The Lower East Side at our museum-like hotel, https://www.bluemoon-nyc.com, and enjoy our artisan Italian Cholov Yisroel café, www.Sweetdreamsbakerynyc.com. I like to consider myself the ambassador to a genuine Italian experience that one can only have in Italy. Please take advantage of our live piano music on Sundays.

We also now have a new program to share with visitors. Join our meet and greet tour as we present the authentic story of the Jewish experience, with personal effects and artifacts curated in 14 collages that detail daily activities of the original tenement dwellers and merchants, as well as highlights of the vast Jewish infrastructure of the Jewish Lower East Side.

The Historic Blue Moon Hotel Tour offers a variety of tours: a 30-minute tour/ $30; a 30-minute tour with taste testing/ $55; a 45-minute tour with lunch or early dinner/ $120 per person. We are available for large groups, schools and shul outings at special discounted prices.

To arrange tours, or on-site catering for britot, engagements and sheva brachot, please contact [email protected].


Randy/Yisroel Settenbrino lives in Passaic with his family.

 

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