The man who was beloved in the Greek Lower East Side Jewish community will now be known to everyone in New York City. On Sunday, the city officially renamed Broome St. between Allen St. and Eldridge St. “Hy Genee Way.”
Hy Genee was the heart and soul of Kehila Kedosha Janina at 280 Broome Street and passed away in 2006 at the age of 83. His spirit still lives on and close to 200 people came out to commemorate and celebrate his legacy.
The Lower East Side used to be home to hundreds of shuls and now only a handful. KKJ is the only remaining Greek Sephardic one.
Andrew Marcus, 24, a board member at the shul, knocked on doors of business and homes to get the signatures needed for a street renaming. He recalled how he always heard Genee chanting liturgy at shul and he was the last person to receive bar mitzvah lessons from him.
“I was very fortunate and blessed to have Hy teach my bar mitzvah lessons,” Marcus said to the attendees. “I take it upon myself to do as much as I can to keep his legacy alive.”
In February, the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Broome St. will be officially co-named Hy Genee Way in honor of its former president and community leader at KKJ. Genee, who helped the shul stay afloat for 50 years, was beloved in the community.
Councilwoman Margaret Chin (D-1), who represents the Lower East Side, spoke about Genee.
“Hy Genee cared for his family, his congregation and his neighborhood,” the councilwoman said to the attendees. “When he passed away our community lost a warm and caring presence. It is most appropriate that we do this because Hy exemplifies the spirit of this neighborhood. Now people will be reminded of his leadership every time they walk on the street.”
His family and friends spoke about “Mr. Lower Eastside.” Synagogue President Marvin Marcus, Andrew’s father, told JP he was blessed to have known Genee for more than 20 years.
Genee was a humble man who never wanted the attention, he remarked.
“For those of you who did not know Hy Genee he was a very special man,” Marcus said to the audience. “Through his efforts our kehila was able to survive five decades. Our kehila is eternally grateful to Hy Genee for his work.”
Melissa Ledner, Genee’s granddaughter, reminisced about the times she spent with him. She was extremely close with him and recalled how every time they went to Key Foods or a bakery it was as if the mayor was arriving because everyone would line up to kiss Genee or shake his hand. As she got older, they would go to shul together and dance on the way home and even went to a hookah bar once.
“They (her grandparents) were the best,” Ledner said to JP Updates. “I was really close with my nanny and my pop pop. I think people would come to the synagogue just to see him. He was just a really funny guy.”
Holding tears back, Genee’s children, Lois Genee Ledner and Marty Genee talked about their dad and how proud they are that the street is renamed after him. Marty explained that people often wonder if one person can make a difference and in this case, his father truly did.
“The Lower East Side is a very special part of my life and now it will be even more significant with this being renamed Hy Genee Way,” Genee Ledner said.
“Never in anyone’s dreams, including our father, did we imagine a street would be named after him,” her brother added. “He certainly achieved the crown of a good name. This block was the center of Greek Jewish life. It’s so appropriate that Broome Street contains Hy’s name.”