Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Shabbos Table

Looking for a tasty treat? In this week's installment, we have recipes guaranteed to knock your socks off. Consider this fair warning.

Tomato and Zucchini Salad 
First up is Jan's Tomato and Zucchini Salad. If you want to thank her for making your meal healthful and delicious, stop by the Museum on Mondays and take her tour. A former French teacher, Jan has been known to lead tours in French, Spanish and even Italian-- a fitting setting for this nice summer salad recipe. She even includes plating directions: what a balabusta!

  •  l large tomato, coarsely chopped or diced
  • l small zucchini, thinly sliced
  • 2 T. sliced green onion
  • 1 tsp. snipped fresh basil
  • 2 T. Wishbone Robusto Italian Dressing
In a medium mixing bowl combine tomato, zucchini, green onion, basil, and Italian dressing.  Toss lightly to mix. Line 4 salad plates with leaf lettuce.  Divide tomato mixture between plates.Makes 4 servings.  If you are serving a dairy lunch, you can sprinkle each serving with some shredded mozzarella cheese. 

Hanna's Summer Pot Roast

This recipe is courtesy of Hanna Griff-Sleven, Director of Family History Center & Cultural Programs at the Museum. In addition to planning amazing cultural events and taking oral histories of former worshipers at the Eldridge Street Synagogue, Hanna is our resident chef. This recipe is her latest attempt to simplify summer cooking. With just a few ingredients and the most basic of prep work, this pot roast is simply a mikhaye.

  • 3 lbs. pot roast
  • ½ c. olive oil
  • Juice of two lemons
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 2 cups of miso soup or beef broth
Brown the meat on all sides in olive oil.  Add the lemon juice and soup/broth, cover and cook on low flame for 2- 2 and a half hours or until meat is tender. Add the lemon zest and cook for 15 more minutes.  Serve hot or cold. Pair with mashed potatoes and a nice green salad.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Most Dangerous Woman in America

Via the Jewish Women's Archive: Emma Goldman's career, followed closely by many in the Yiddish-speaking world, provided this newspaper — subtitled "A Journal of Humor, Wit, and Satire" — with a great deal of subject material. The caption under this cartoon reads: "Emma Goldman, the grogger [noise-maker] and Free Speech in America." The cartoonist effectively pokes fun both at Goldman's outspokenness and at the authorities' attempts to silence the "noise-maker."
On our Stoop, Synagogue, Soapbox walking tour, we stroll the local streets while exploring the intersection of politics, ideology and religion on the Lower East Side of 100 years ago. One of the more(in)famous characters we meet along the way is Emma Goldman-- feminist, anarchist, rabble rouser and proponent of free love. A fascinating historical figure, Goldman's life was dedicated to changing the status-quo of the world in which she found herself: "I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things."

Looking for Goldman on the internet? Here are a few places to help your search:
Join us at 7 PM on Thursday, August 12th as we meet Emma and other East Side politicos on the Stoop, Synagogue, Soapbox walking tour. Email Nina Cohen to reserve a spot.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

(Jewish) Gangs of New York

On our Gangster, Writer, Rabbi walking tour, we explore the lives-- and funeral processions-- of three iconic Lower East Side figures: writer Sholem Aleichem, Rabbi Jacob Joseph, and East Side gangster Big Jack Zelig. Though Bugsy Siegel and  Meyer Lansky usually come to mind when thinking of Jewish gangsters, Zelig was a true leader of crime in the neighborhood. As Abraham Schoenfeld, detective for the Kehilla, a Jewish communal organization, wrote: "Men before him - like Kid Twist, Monk Eastman, and others - were as pygmies to a giant. With the passing of Zelig, one of the most 'nerviest', strongest, and best men of his kind left us."

Who was Big Jack Zelig? Born Zelig Harry Lefkowitz,
Zelig was the leader of a band of Jewish gangsters in New York City in the early 1900s. Early in 1912, the Zelig gang was hired by corrupt New York City Police Lieutenant Charles Becker who ran a protection racket for the New York gangs to kill another Manhattan gangster named Herman (Beansie) Rosenthal whom Becker thought was an informant. Rosenthal was shot to death on a Manhattan Street on July 16,1912 by four of Big Jack's men. Police Lieut. Becker was arrested and charged with ordering Rosenthal's murder and put on trial with Zelig scheduled to testify against him. On Oct. 5,1912, the night before the trial was to begin Big Jack Zelig was shot to death while riding on a Second Ave. trolley car in Manhattan. Police Lieut. Becker was convicted of ordering Rosenthal's murder and sentenced to death. He was executed in Sing-Sing's electric chair. 
Death may be final, but the story doesn't end there. Find out how Zelig's funeral polarized the downtown Jewish community, underscoring tensions between American commericalism and Eastern European traditions. The tour is offered Thursdays July 29  and August 19 at 7pm.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Shabbos Recipes

Searching for a recipe for your Shabbos meal? You can call your bubbe -- but if that fails, we're here to provide your weekly fix. On tap this week is a garlicky summer gazpacho and a sweet sangria for all of your ceremonial needs.

Garlicky Summer Gazpacho
Garlic, the favored seasoning of Jewish cooks worldwide, provides a spicy kick to this summer soup. Easy to make and serve, this promises to be a hit at your Sabbath table.

  • 1 bottle tomato juice
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 4 plum tomatoes
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 large cucumber
  • half a bunch parsley
  • half a bunch chives
  • black pepper and salt to taste
Roughly dice vegetables. Add all solids to blender with tomato juice to cover. Blend until desired smoothness is reached. Add salt and pepper to taste. Voila! A first course that takes no heat and just 5 minutes to prepare.

Summer Sangria 
 Tired of the same old Manischewitz kiddush wine? Try this sweet sangria as a fresh alternative. With a heady mix of fresh fruit and alcohol, your guests will be saying "Amen!"


  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 1 mango, sliced
  • 2 cups of fresh raspberries (or thawed frozen)
  • 1 lime, sliced
  • 3 oz brandy
  • 2 tbsp of superfine sugar
  • 1 can club soda
Combine all ingredients except club soda in a pitcher and refrigerate overnight. Before serving, stir in club soda. For an extra treat, freeze a few of the raspberries and use as ice cubes!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Independence Day

After leaving Eastern Europe, the founders of our synagogue forged their lives as Americans on the streets of the Lower East Side. How did they celebrate their newfound heritage? Unfortunately, I've found no mention of barbecued borscht or other culinary treats, but a strong sense of pride as Americans certainly took hold in the Eldridge Street Synagogue's congregation. As Annie Polland comments in Landmark of the Spirit: The Eldridge Street Synagogue,
Within the walls of the synagogue, immigrants forged an American Jewish identity that blended patriotism to their new country with a sense of responsibility to Jews around the world...In 1889 the congregation decorated the synagogue in honor of the centennial of George Washington's iunaguruation and, in 1901, held a memorial service for President William McKinley. During World War I, the congregation commisioned and displayed an American flag with stars for each one of the congregation's sons serving in the war (12.)
This ode to the patriotic boys serving overseas hung from special flagholders, placed in the women's balcony and embellished with five-pointed American stars. Flying proudly from the magestic facade of the Eldridge Street Synagogue, the flag must have seemed like a banner for American pride and identity. Though the flags have been lost to time, the flagholders stand as important reminders of the independence felt by our founders in this country.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Food Memories

They say that the way to a man's heart is his stomach, but I believe that the path actually leads directly to the brain. Merely mentioning food can unlock troves of memories thought to have disappeared long ago. This year, I asked the festival-goers waiting in line at our Egg Rolls and Egg Creams Festival to share the memories traditional foods like egg rolls and egg creams evoke for them, and the responses poured in. Here are a few of their answers:

"'Egg Cream' was what Harriet the Spy ordered at the restaurant after school in NYC!" -Eileen, grew up in Westchester

"Growing up, we would order Chinese food every week. My favorite were the egg rolls, which were quite a novelty for a Jewish girl in the Bronx in the 1940s. Eventually, the woman taking orders recognized my voice when I'd call!"

"First read about egg creams in 'Road Food Good Food.' Immediately made them for everyone!"

"I am from Canton (Guanhzhou), China. I believe egg rolls are a type of dim sum (a genre of Cantonese food.) However, I did not like egg rolls at all when I was in China. I started to like them when I came to the US and ate my first egg roll in a Chinese restaurant here. I guess its just the feeling of home that makes me like egg rolls again." -Liyan, a wonderful MAES intern

"In college, I'd invite my crushes back to my dorm for egg creams!"

Do you have a favorite egg roll or egg cream memory to share? Comment below-- we'd love to hear it!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

From the Trenches: An Egg Cream Report

At our annual Egg Rolls and Egg Creams Festival this past Sunday, I celebrated my 5th year of pouring, stirring and sipping egg creams, the official beverage of the Lower East Side (in my estimation, at least.) Serving egg creams to a crowd of 8,000 is like running a marathon: a true test of endurance, ending in sweet, chocolaty victory. We came, we stirred, and we conquered, selling out our entire supply!

You may be wondering: what exactly is an egg cream? According to Wikipedia,
"An egg cream is a classic beverage consisting of chocolate syrup, milk, and seltzer, probably dating from the late 19th century, and is especially associated with Brooklyn, home of its alleged inventor, candy store owner Louis Auster.[1][2][3] It contains neither eggs nor cream. The egg cream is almost exclusively a fountain drink; although there have been several attempts to bottle it, none has been wholly successful, as its fresh taste and characteristic head requires mixing of the ingredients just before drinking. The drink can be compared to a traditional ice cream soda, though it contains no ice cream."

To make an egg cream at home in an 8-ounce cup, here is a quick recipe handed down from John Heller, pictured above. At Eldridge Street, he is the Grand Poobah of the Cream, and indeed taught me how to make my very first. I've since used this recipe hundreds of times, and it never fails to impress:

1. Pour Fox's U-Bet syrup into cup, approximately 1 inch thick. Accept no imitations.
2. Add a splash of milk about the same height, stir vigorously.
3. Add seltzer to the mixture, ending slightly below the top of cup. Beware! Overflowing is an occupational hazard.
4. Stir, serve and enjoy!

Are you a pickle person? Is deli your delicacy? Love lime rickies? Tell us about your favorite East Side Treat!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Festival Musings

When I first envisioned a Chinese Jewish Festival more than ten years ago, I thought it would be good for the neighborhood and for our mission to tell the story of the immigrants who made and make our neighborhood special. I imagined Chinese and Jewish artists and musicians sitting side by side informing the public about their traditions. What I did not expect, but experienced starting at our very first festival back in 2000, is the deep feeling of community and joy that emanates from all the participants and festival goers – this is a New York Moment.

Walking south on Eldridge Street from the B Train on Grand Street, you are in Chinatown: dumpling shops and markets sell more than 20 varieties of soy sauce and all sorts of dried foods in bins, fish so fresh that it still moves and store signs in Chinese with auspicious names like Prosperity Dumplings or Good Lock Locksmith; there is a Buddhist temple, too. However, if you look closely, you might notice Harris Levy Fine Linens and remember that your bubbe went there to buy her wedding linens; or you might see a tenement with Moorish windows and a faded Star of David on the façade – a sign that the building was once a synagogue.

If you've been lucky enough to visit us on the first Sunday in June over the past 10 years, you might have thought you had stumbled into a whole other wonderful world. You hear strains of klezmer music and see folks dancing a hora. If you stay a bit longer, the strains of Ray Musike’s Romania Romania slowly change into a Chinese folk song led by bandmaster Mr. Hoy and members of the Qi Shu Feng Peking Opera transform themselves into monkey kings and tigers and flip through the air. You shake your head twice, no three times, and enter the 1887 landmark Eldridge Street Synagogue. Sitting side by side is a Hebrew scribe, demonstrating this sacred art, with a Chinese calligrapher. A bit deeper into the sanctuary there is a tefillin maker, a most holy man who so loves his work that you, too become intrigued by his story and his ritual objects and you feel that you might have just stepped into a shop in Jerusalem.

You learn that the synagogue is still a place of worship but just as important that this neighborhood was always an immigrant neighborhood, that just as years ago the shops had Yiddish signs and sold yarmulkes and tallisim and prayer books, now there are Chinese signs and the mamma loshen and lukshen has been transformed to Chinese and pulled noodles and somewhere this odd juxtaposition of Chinese and Jews has turned into a day of mutual respect and sharing. It’s New York after all, where benign indifference can turn into neighborly love, and egg roll meets egg cream for an afternoon of shared delight

-Hanna Griff-Sleven, Director of Programs

Thursday, May 13, 2010

School Days: A Reader's Answer

In response to my last School Days post about the cheder at the Eldridge Street Synagogue, former Director of Education Annie Polland sent in some enlightening details. Taken from a paper she presented at a conference about the institution of the Bar Mitzvah at the turn of the last century, the following gives us a better understanding of why the congregation's school lasted only one year:

Why didn’t these congregations start Hebrew schools from the start? We know that the congregation encompassed far more activities in its domain other than merely worship. Politics, building maintenance, charitable activities, and study for adults all took on formal arrangements in the synagogue. Why then, wasn’t there room for formal children’s education? One reason for the hesitancy in building up their own school was that both individuals members and the congregation as a whole was an early and avid supporter of the Machzike Talmud Torah. Given that strong support, they probably reasoned that duplicating their efforts by exerting energy for a school on their premises would only frustrate those already underway. But by 1901, ideas had shifted: The Board of Trustees met on September 30, 1901 and discussed opening a Talmud Torah for its members: “It will be a good thing for Judaism and also a benefit for our congregation.” Several days later, when the trustees brought the proposal “of establish[ing] a school on Shul premises, to provide instruction for the children of members” and that the school should be under the directorship of the conregation” to the general meeting, it was enthusiastically received, as the members not only unanimously accepted it and appointed a committee [David Cohen at head], but opened up their wallets to pledge individual contributions.

 A total of $569.25 was raised over two fundraising efforts in the fall of 1901 and summer of 1902. “Cash” contains a section devoted to the “Beit Sefer” and shows the fundraising efforts engaged upon by the members. In several fundraising efforts, starting in October of 1901, August of 1902, individuals pledged money, amounting to the sum of $569.25 , from which teachers were hired, ledgers purchased, and advertisements placed.

At the end of the term in December, the board studied the books and decided to continue the school, which would hold its next session starting July of 1902. Over the next year and half, the board and congregation seemed pleased with the school, continuing to support it and even overseeing construction at the Bes Medrash level for the creation of classrooms. The Cash book shows expenses for teachers, one of them Leib Matlawsky, the secretary. In 1903, there appears to be hesitation, with the congregation pledging their renewed support, but appointing a new school committee (perhaps the former one had become dormant?). The problem seemed to be a loss of funds: “To this end, the following committee is appointed to take care of this matter properly, to be knowledgeable about the finances, so that the congregation will know how much to appropriate when necessary.” In addition to their interest in the financial management of the school, they seemed to think that scholarly nature of the school needed some professionalism, and thus one of the first acts of the committee was to appoint Rav Yosef Fried, who directed much of their adult study sessions and had just published Ohel Yosef, as an advisor.

As the term continued, the financial difficulties were not resolved, and in April 1903 the general meeting debated the topic, and in May of 1903 decided to end the congregation’s formal administration of the school, instead allowing the two teachers to continue their classes in the shul for the next six months “at their own expense.” Because the Minutes do not go into any details, and the Cash book shows an imbalance between income and expense, it is hard to say what happened beyond financial failure. Around the same time, the Minutes show that the congregation had just started to debate the option of opening an uptown branch. Many of the members of the school committee were among those who were interested in the uptown branch, so it is possible that their energies and interests were simply diverted. If they had moved uptown already, then presumably their children were in school uptown, and they were less motivated to lend the energies needed to establish a new school downtown. Indeed, David Cohen—the leader of the committee and who would emerge as the leader of the uptown contingent, was himself a prime player in the movement to build the Uptown Talmud Torah. So, it is possible that just at this juncture, many of the wealthier members had or were starting to move uptown, thus shifting their educational ambitions northward as opposed to the synagogue.

Thanks, Annie! Stay tuned for more about the local public schools, the foundation of Jewish day schools and education for girls coming up over the next few weeks.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Lost Languages

Language is one of the aspects of immigration that we explore through exhibits and education programs at the museum. In our Yiddish newspaper interactive activity, visitors become editors of their very own turn-of-the-century paper, mixing articles from socialist presses with editorials from the Orthodox dailies. The display of Yiddish signs from the neighborhood shows the integration of English words into like "clean" and "fix" into the Yiddish language. A recent article in the New York Times discuss issues of language and immigration, highlighting the ways in which immigration can be a death knell for a rare language.

"Listening to (and Saving) the World’s Languages" explores how New York has become the greatest repository of rare languages:

In addition to dozens of Native American languages, vulnerable foreign languages that researchers say are spoken in New York include Aramaic, Chaldic and Mandaic from the Semitic family; Bukhari (a Bukharian Jewish language, which has more speakers in Queens than in Uzbekistan or Tajikistan); Chamorro (from the Mariana Islands); Irish Gaelic; Kashubian (from Poland); indigenous Mexican languages; Pennsylvania Dutch; Rhaeto-Romanic (spoken in Switzerland); Romany (from the Balkans); and Yiddish.
For many of these languages, there are more speakers in New York than in the area where the language originated ."'It is the capital of language density in the world,' said Daniel Kaufman, an adjunct professor of linguistics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. 'We’re sitting in an endangerment hot spot where we are surrounded by languages that are not going to be around even in 20 or 30 years.'" The City Room blog created a list of the least-commonly spoken languages in New York and how many people are known to speak  them. Topping the list is Cayuga, with only 6 speakers! Though the number of Yiddish speakers is considerably higher, it too is vulnerable and on the list of the Endangered Language Alliance. Once the vernacular of the Lower East Side community, it has fallen into a state of near-extinction outside of Hasidic communities.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

School Days

What was education like for worshipers at the Eldridge Street Synagogue at the turn of the last century? On my walking tours, we often pass a local landmark: Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem, known in the neighborhood simply as "The Yeshiva." This local Jewish school, chartered in 1907 and still thriving today, very often has visitors asking: Where did the members of the Eldridge Street Synagogue send their children to school? I'll explore this question over the next few weeks, showing some of the different options available to the Jewish community of the Lower East Side at the turn of the last century.

 Today's post is about school at the shul. Did the Eldridge Street congregation form a cheder, a school for boys, as many other local synagogues did?  I found the following in an index of the congregation's Yiddish books, discovered in the basement at the start of the restoration:
During the turn of the century Cong. Adath Yeshurun ran a Hebrew School, for how many years is not clear. This book has on the inside cover Beth Haseifer, Congregation 12-16 Eldridge Street, NY, October 13, 1901. Beth Haseifer, is what Hebrew schools were called. This is a ledger book for the Hebrew School. On page 9 the date seems to be Dec. 1902. It reads "Take out door of cellar . 50." None of the other expenses concern the shul building. This book contains other expenses, etc. of the shul, as well as minutes of the Loan Committee of the shul.
It appears that for at least a year there was indeed a cheder inside the Eldridge Street building. However, it seems that the school was short lived, as this is the only mention of any such school in the entire collection. Why did the school close after only a year? What does that tell us about the members' desire to educate their children in Bible, Talmud and Jewish law? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this matter.

Next time, we'll explore the most popular option for LES children: the local public schools.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Painting in the City

Recently, James Cooper's "Painting in the City" class at the Educational Alliance came to visit Eldridge Street for some watercolor inspiration and exploration. James was kind enough to share some of the students' work with us.
For more work from different sites, check out the class' blog here. I couldn't help but think of this historic photograph while perusing through the class' pictures, taken of a portrait class at the Educational Alliance in1918. Below is a photograph of Cooper's class, 92 years later. Who knows how many generations of artists have been inspired by the Eldridge Street Synagogue and other East Side landmarks?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Yiddishisms: Kesselgarden

While reading Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City over the weekend, I discovered a Yiddish word that I'm adding to my list of favorites: kesselgarden. According to Wikipedia,
Kesselgarden refers to the way "Castle Garden" was pronounced by Yiddish-speaking Eastern European Jews who settled in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Castle Garden was a facility on the southern tip of Manhattan that received immigrants from 1855 through 1890. Thousands of Jews entered the U.S. through Castle Garden prior to the opening of Ellis Island in 1892. "Kesselgarden" later became generalized to mean any situation that was noisy, confusing and chaotic.
Castle Clinton, renamed Castle Garden, was the first immigrant processing center in New York. This wonderful timeline, created by, will help you navigate through the building's history. Though replaced and eclipsed by its far more famous neighbor, Ellis Island, its name lives on (perhaps in infamy) in the Yiddish language. This wonderful example of the integration of American English words and even names into Yiddish is but one example of the intermingling of Americanization and tradition, something embodied in the Eldridge Street Synagogue as well. Check out the clip below for today's Kesselgarden, a klezmer band bringing the sounds of yesteryear to today's listening public.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Save the Deli- Tonight!


A tasty treat you won't want to miss-- join us tonight as David Sax reads from his fantastic new book, Save the Deli at 7 PM. Sax "is a deli fanatic, whose yearning for the salted, cured meats traces back to friday nights at Yitz’s in Toronto. Further back he can trace deli lineage to his father’s childhood in Montreal, and his grandfather’s childhood in Romania...Over the course of the past few years he’s toured the world, interviewing deli owners and famous deli lovers (like Ed Koch, Ruth Reichel and Mel Brooks), tried his hand cutting sandwiches at Katz’s, and voyaged to the heart of deli country, whether New York, LA, Montreal, Paris, London, or Poland." We'll be serving local pickles as we listen to Sax wax poetic about one of the mainstays of Jewish food on the Lower East Side and beyond. This free event is sure to hit the spot!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Intern Files: Sonny on Snuff

My name is Sonny, and I have been interning at The Museum at Eldridge Street for five months now. As the education intern at the museum, one of my jobs is researching new and interesting facts to include in our tours and school programs. I’ve always been fascinated by history, especially the unusual parts that people are less likely to discuss! One thing I love about the Museum at Eldridge Street are the clues that teach us about the ways that the first congregants balanced their cultural and religious identities with the new American way of life they were now living – many of which are built right into the synagogue itself. Something that sparked my interest when I first visited the museum in 2008 was the snuff box in the Bes Medrash – it seemed totally out of place, as well as perfectly natural, and in my opinion is one of the parts of the synagogue that gives it’s first congregants a more human face. Recently, Miriam Bader asked me to do some research on the history of snuff to share with our docents, and I was very intrigued by what I found out!

What is “Snuff?”
Smokeless tobacco has been manufactured and sold across the globe for centuries, but was most popular in the United States during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The two main categories are dry and moist snuff. Dry snuff is pulverized tobacco, which a user would take a pinch of and sniff into their nose. Dry snuff was typically thought of as a European habit, hence it is also referred to as “European snuff.” In the United States the more typical form of smokeless tobacco has always been moist snuff. Commonly referred to as “dip,” moist snuff is a version of Snus, a Swedish smokeless tobacco which was brought to America by Swedish immigrants in the 19th century. Moist snuff is often confused with chewing tobacco, but their uses are slightly different: rather than chewing snuff, a person would take a pinch of the loose tobacco and place it between their lower lip and their gums. Sucking on the tobacco causes an excess of saliva to develop, making it necessary to spit into a container (or on the ground!), as swallowing can cause nausea or irritation to the esophagus. Long time users, however, can often swallow without any side effect, which is colloquially referred to as “gutting” it. It became popular because it was able to be used indoors, especially during long work days, when an employee might not get a cigarette break or might be required to use both hands to work.

At Eldridge Street
Since smoking was a common habit among Americans during the early days of the Eldridge Street Synagogue, it is not surprising that many of the male members of the congregation would use snuff during long services when they could not smoke cigarettes. Accordingly, the snuff box in the bimah in the Bes Medrash, which is one of the most unusual features of the architecture at Eldridge Street, does not seem so out of place when you consider the widespread nature of the habit at the time of the synagogue’s construction. During the synagogue’s hey-day, the congregation used a portion of their funds every year to purchase new spittoons, and had strict rules regarding spitting on the floor, as noted in the detailed minute books. These facts leave us with the assumption that many of the congregants used dip during services rather than European snuff, as dry snuff does not require the user to spit. Additionally, moist snuff was more popular in the U.S. at the time and therefore it was likely much easier to purchase. However, it is possible that the congregation might have provided dry snuff in the snuff box in the Bes Medrash. Either way, smokeless tobacco was a popular indulgence of the time that many of the congregants took part in, even during religious services.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The History Detective: Isser Reznik, Part II

In today's installment of The History Detective, we're continuing our investigation of an Eldridge Street legend, Isser Reznik [click for part I.] As I mentioned last time, I did a bit of quick research on Isser, but found only a few interesting items. I checked first on a favorite research site of mine,, which digitizes city directories, census records and all sorts of other historic documents. We actually worked with the people behind Footnote on a recent grant, and have found their resources and insights tremendously helpful. Plugging "Isser Reznik" into the search engine, I found the following:

Here, Isser Reznik acted as the witness for his neighbor Michel Susterman's petition for naturalization. Here, Isser's home address is listed as 86 Eldridge Street, which made his walk to work at 77 1/2 Eldridge Street almost ridiculously conveninent. Yes, I am slightly jealous.

Unfortunately it was all that Footnote had for our friend Isser. I then took a look on another excellent site geared specifically to genealogy enthusiasts, It too had only one search result:

Here we have an Isser Reznik living in Brooklyn, recorded on this 1920 census. He is married to Jenny, and has children Max. Blanche, Sarah, and Sam, who is married to Belle and father to Irving.  At first I was dismayed, thinking I had found a classic case of mistaken identity, the pitfall of many an amateur researcher. The original names I was given included Max, Jacob, Shmulkie, and a wife named Zeldah Rivkah! 
But as I looked at the original picture of the family, I realized I had forgotten to account for name changes! Many Jewish immigrants changed their names in America, or used one name within the Yiddish-speaking community and a more common American name for legal matters. Shmulkie could easily be Sam, and Max is listed on both the picture given by Isser's great-grandson and on this census record. It seemed too similar to be coincidence, and got me thinking: Could Isser have another name? Stay tuned for the next installment of The History Detective as I search for Isser's alter ego. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cool Culture

We've always been cool and cultural, but now we've got a stamp of approval! Cool Culture is a New York institution that helps income-eligible families access and enjoy NYC's world-class cultural institutions for free, providing children with learning experiences that improve literacy and learning. Their programs harness the commitment of 90 cultural institutions and over 430 early education programs and schools, to help parents play an active role as their child's first teacher. The Museum at Eldridge Street recently joined their roster of impressive cultural organizations and sites.
Miriam Bader, the Museum's Director of Education, recently attended Cool Culture's annual fair. She shared a bit about her experience there with me:
Over 500 professionals gathered at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum for the annual Cool Culture fair. Surrounded by impressive aircrafts and exhibitory, early childhood educators and administrators, along with representatives from New York’s cultural institutions, mixed, mingled, and explored ways for children to connect with the arts. Since its founding 10 years ago, Cool Culture has provided hundreds of thousands of low-income parents with opportunities to give their young children educational experiences that instill a love of learning through the arts. The Museum at Eldridge Street is delighted to be one of 90 institutional partners working with Cool Culture to take families on culturally enriching adventures.
We've already welcomed dozens of Cool Culture families to the Museum. many of whom came to our fun-filled Winter Garden Festival on Sunday. Our Preservation Detectives family program picks back up this Sunday, and we hope to have even more Cool friends join us.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The History Detective: Isser Reznik and Sons

It seems like everyone I meet has a family connection to the Lower East Side, which makes sense given how crowded this neighborhood was 100 years ago. Part of the fun of working at the Museum is helping visitors find out more about family who may have been members here and discovering more about individuals who lived and worked in the buildings that still stand right outside our front doors. Recently, Bruce Reznik shared the interesting family photograph below. Taken in front of the family storefront at 77 1/2 Eldridge Street, just down the block from our historic synagogue, the photo captures 2 generations of the Reznik family from which Bruce is descended.

Uncle Shmulkie, Uncle Max,  Great Grandpa Isser and Zehde (Jacob Cuppel Reznik)

Bruce let us know a bit about Isser and his life here on the Lower East Side:
I think Isser had 9 brothers and sisters and they all stayed in Palestine except Isser who came to the US. I think they originally came from Russia . The family had loads of money and invested it in oil during the early 1900's.  Unfortunately they lost it all.  I have a copy of an entry in the "Who's Who of American Jewry" at the time and it tells a little about him.  I know Grandpa Reznik did some designs for the materials they sold in the store.  He had patents for them and I remember him showing them to me.  Unfortunately, [his son] threw them out.  Isser had 2 wives-Zelda Rivkah Reznik (died 1/18/1927). and Sabrina Reznik (11/14/1881-11/11/1967).  Isser  died on 3/11/1944.
 This tantalizing bit of history piqued my interest. Who was Isser Reznik, a man who lived and worked mere steps away from where I now sit? Stay tuned for the next installment of this series, The History Detective, as I discover why Isser remains largely absent from the documentary trail.

Can't wait until the next chapter for more neighborhood stories? Hear all about G&S Sporting Goods, an East Side institution since 1937, in the Lo-Down's new series, "On Essex."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Winter Garden

Here in New York, winter is in full bloom. Over the past few weeks we've experienced snow, freezing rain and winds that seemed likely to lift our historic building all the way to Kansas! This coming Sunday, January 31st from 1-5 PM, join us as we wish away the winter blues with our first-ever Tu B'shvat Winter Garden Festival, a free event celebrating the Jewish Arbor Day and environmentalism.

You may be asking yourself: what in the world is Tu B'shvat? We admit, it is certainly one of the more obscure Jewish holidays, but its focus on celebrating the bounty of the earth and conservation seemed a natural fit with our building's green restoration. And there is never a bad reason for a free festival! We see this as the winter counterpart to our fabulous Egg Rolls and Egg Creams Festival, which we host every June in celebration of the Jewish and Chinese cultures that share Eldridge Street.

The name Tu B'shvat is actually the date of the holiday, the 15th of the month of S'hvat. The holiday is first mentioned in the Mishna, where the ancient rabbis have a little throwdown over the date. They discuss the four "New Years" in the Jewish calendar (I wonder what they used for the ball drop in ancient Babylon?):
The first of Nisan - new year for kings and festivals - The first of Elul - new year for animal tithes. Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Shimon say: the first of Tishrei. - The first of Tishrei- new year for calculation of the calendar, sabbatical years and jubilees, for planting and sowing - The first of Shevat - new year for trees, according to the school of Shamai; The school of Hillel say: the fifteenth of Shevat (Rosh Hashana:2a)
Our buddy Hillel seems to have won this argument, since the New Year for Trees has been celebrated on the 15th of S'hvat ever since. At Eldridge, we'll be green-ing out with kosher organic wine tasting from Tishbi winery, a seder featuring many varieties of dried fruits and nuts (led by me), kid-friendly planting activities, family tree making and more! Check out the event on our Facebook page for more information (and become a fan while you're there!) For a taste of spring in the dead of winter, this is one event you won't want to miss.

                                                                                                                                                                            Image via Ironic Sans

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Last Word

For a 123-year-old, the Eldridge Street Synagogue is pretty hip. A few weeks ago we witnessed the installation of a public art exhibit by artists' collaborative Illegal Art called "The Last Word." The artists behind the exhibit, Otis Kriegel and Michael Devitt, explain:
There are always things left unsaid. The perfect ending to a conversation with a stranger. A clever comeback in a debate with a colleague at work. A farewell bid to a loved one. Let’s face it; life is full of missed opportunities to get in that last word. What do you wish you had said? As the year draws to a close, we ...invite you participate in Illegal Art's newest public art project, "The Last Word." Write down and deposit your unsaid "last words." Read what others wish they had said. Take a moment to reflect on past conversations in a space resonant with history.
The Lo-Down has a great interview with Otis and Michael from the opening, which took place at the
Museum on December 6th.


In the last Op-Art piece of 2009, the New York Times featured some choice slips left at the Museum at Eldridge Street, Pratt Institute, the Spring Gallery and the Gay Men's Health Crisis:

The installation is still up, but only for a few more weeks! Be sure to make it down to Eldridge before your last words remain unspoken forever. For those of you who can't visit us-- what is your last word? Share it here!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Talk of the Town

We're the talk of the town! In the latest edition of the New Yorker, author and architectural critic Paul Goldberger writes about the Museum's exciting new project, the fabrication and installation of a new East Window in our historic space. Entitled "She Does Windows", Goldberger's article includes tidbits from artist Kiki Smith, Museum at Eldridge Street Deputy Director Amy Stein Milford and Eldridge Street Project founder and preservationist Roberta Brandes Gratz. If you haven't run out to the newsstand just yet, here is a sneak peak of what you'll find inside:
Smith likes that the synagogue already contains five-pointed starts, as well as the six-pointed Star of David. "The five-pointed star is an American invention," she said. "The people who built this were seeking their identity as Eastern European immigrants, but they were also conscious of being in the New World."...She looked up at the glass blocks. "We will make the window a picture of the sky. It will subtly give out energy and liveliness and unpredictability. It will be a rupture."

Here is a roundup of some of the press the new East Window has gotten thus far:

 -Flavorpill: Eldridge Street Landmark Snags Kiki Smith
-NYTimes ArtsBeat: Kiki Smith and Deborah Gans to Design Window for Eldridge Street Synagogue
-The Jewish Daily Forward: New Light for Old Shul
-The L Magazine: Initial Plans for Kiki Smith's Stained Glass Window for the Museum at Eldridge Street Released

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Chance Meetings at Eldridge

This story comes to us from Sharon, who manages our fantastic giftshop 3 days a week. Sharon has been involved with what was originally the Eldridge Street Project and is now the Museum at Eldridge Street for over 20 years! She is always ready with a quick suggestion for a local restaurant, advice about what to see in New York, or an anecdote about the Eldridge Street Synagogue from before the heat went on in the early '90s (that is the 1990s. When dealing with an old building like ours, you have to be specific.)

At a recent staff meeting, she told us all a sweet story about how the Museum brings people together. She was kind enough to write down the story to share with the blogosphere:
A lovely couple from Israel recently toured the Museum at Eldridge Street. As they were leaving after their tour, a woman entered and passed them on the stairs. Both of the women turned to eachother and started laughing. They are cousins who haven’t seen each other in 30 years! The other lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She knew her cousins would be in New York but didn’t know where or how to reach them.
They then went to lunch and got caught up. Both parties are grateful to have been at the Museum at Eldridge Street and re-establish a face-to-face connection. Maybe we should have a motto “Where families and friends got to meet and greet!"
Do you have a family connection to the Eldridge Street Synagogue? Check out our list of known members from 1887-present, taken from our historic congregation's Yiddish minute books. Use the comment section below to tell us about your family's ties to our building!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Museum at Eldridge Street Blog

Welcome to the Museum at Eldridge Street’s new blog.  Based in the 1887 Eldridge Street Synagogue, the Museum at Eldridge Street presents the culture, history and traditions of the great wave of Jewish immigrants to the Lower East Side drawing parallels with the diverse cultural communities that have settled in America.

We use our landmark space to tell a multitude of stories and experiences. By visiting, you can explore American history, immigration history, Jewish ritual and culture, art and architecture. Our rich cultural programs bring the space to life with music, literature and laughter, and our walking tours keep pace with the history running through the local streets.

I'm Nina Cohen, Education Coordinator at the Museum (there I am on the left, hanging out in the historic women's gallery!) I'll be writing most of what you'll find here on the blog. I'm a walking-tour leading, history-book reading recent college grad, and the Museum at Eldridge Street is one of my all-time favorite places in New York. Where else can you find a High Victorian synagogue located in the heart of Chinatown? We'll also be featuring updates from our talented and creative staff, giving us the inside scoop on development, education, programs and marketing.

Our hope for this blog is to give you a behind-the-scenes peek into the inner workings of our museum. What work goes into our exhibits, tours and programs? Check back here to view videos of the fantastic musicians who perform in our concerts, photographs and quirky historic articles we’ve discovered, and updates from our creative staff. Our historic neighborhood is always evolving, and I’ll be blogging about its unique history and contemporary life.

We see the blog as a way of opening our historic front doors to the public, and letting you all in. Was that post interesting? Is there an item in our collection you'd like to know more about? How about a historic photo you'd love to see featured? We can't wait to hear from you!

Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

New Meets Old at Eldridge

What happens when contemporary art and historic architecture combine? Find out at the Museum at Eldridge Street, which has commissioned artist Kiki Smith and architect Deborah Gans to create a new monumental east window for the 1887 Eldridge Street Synagogue. This installation will be completed in Spring 2010. Walking into the grand sanctuary, visitors will get a taste of both 1887 and 2010, Victorian architecture with a modern day interpretation.

Originally, stained glass rose windows at the front and back greeted worshippers at the Eldridge Street Synagogue on opening day. Always unstable, the East Window finally collapsed out of its frame in the late 1930s, leaving the congregation with a gaping hole at the front of the majestic sanctuary. Lacking the funds for a reproduction, the congregation replaced it with a clear tablet-shaped glass-block design in 1944-45, which remains in the wall today.

During the 20-year restoration process, the East Window became a major question: How do we restore an element for which there are no original building plans and no photographs? After an extended decision-making process, we opted for a new commission which would return an inspiring interior and offer a respectful solution to the irreplaceable original.

Smith and Gans’ design, a galaxy of golden stars against an ever-changing blue firmament, recreates in stained-glass the blue and gold star pattern painted on the walls immediately surrounding the new window. According to their statement, “The new stained-glass window will use the features and motifs of the existing synagogue in a new way so that the mind and eye reflects back on the interior space as they are drawn into the space of the window. The wall pattern of five pointed gold stars against a blue sky will be extended across the window.  The ribs of the window will radiate from a Star of David at the center.  In pattern and shape, this window will be similar to the existing ceiling domes of the synagogue and also the trompe-l'oeil windows to either side of the arc. The current technology of flash glass makes it possible to etch the yellow stars into a blue field without any outline or leading so that they will appear as more intense sources of light within the glow of the window.  The translation of the traditional motif of the synagogue with this material and structure will intensify the floating qualities of the synagogue space and surfaces.”

To inaugurate the new East Window and investigate the challenges of restoration, visit the Museum at Eldridge Street every Wednesday at 1 PM for a special preservation tour. Be sure to keep reading for more about our exciting East Window initiative!

New Year, New Tours

Visitors to the Museum currently have the option of going on our standard tour, Landmark of the Spirit, which focuses on the synagogue’s history, the Jewish East Side neighborhood, and the American immigrant experience. They can also explore our surroundings through our menu of walking tours, which range from the thrilling Gangster, Writer, Rabbi to the moving Love & Courtship.

Our building, however, is multifaceted—not just a historical site, but a significant portal into architecture and religious practice. In order to explore these planes and present them to the public, we are in the process of developing two new visitor experiences.

The Architecture Tour will debut in Spring 2010, and will explore the award-winning restoration of our National Historic Landmark. It will draw parallels with other prominent sites in New York City, nationally, and around the world that have faced preservation challenges and responded in innovative ways.

This tour is a collaborative project between the Museum at Eldridge Street and the preservation programs of Columbia University, Pratt Institute and the University of Pennsylvania. Students are researching and writing about aspects of the building and design that will help the public to engage in the building and its architecture.

Questions to be answered include: Does the design reflect the process of Americanization? What choices were made in its restoration? How does it fit into the museum’s preservation ethos? Are there examples at other sites that might be meaningful? Ultimately, we will hear back from the students about preservation projects that use green technology or sustainable practices, sites that provide creative examples of adaptive re-use, using the case study at Eldridge Street, among others.

We’ll be keeping you updated as this project develops further.

The Church of Sea and Land

While looking into the history of Eldridge Street, I came across a fantastic e-book digitized by Project Guttenberg about a historic church in the neighborhood, located on the corner of Henry and Market Streets.

The Kirk on Rutgers Farm, written by Frederick Brückbauer in 1919, celebrates a century of worship in what began as the Dutch Reformed Church, was then the Church of the Land and Sea, and is now the First Chinese Presbyterian Church. The land was deeded by Henry Rutgers in 1816, and the building on the lot has been standing since 1819.

Learn more about the history of the building.

The introduction by George Alexander describes the history of the church, and the incredible spirit of the worshippers who retained their prayer space even as the walls crumbled around them:
Of the sanctuary, which, for one hundred years, has stood on the corner of Market and Henry Streets, the author, like many others who have put their lives into it, might well say: 'Thy saints take pleasure in her stones, Her very dust to them is dear.' The story of 'The Kirk on Rutgers Farm' is one of pathetic interest. In its first half-century it sheltered a worshipping congregation of staid Knickerbocker type, which, tho blest with a ministry of extraordinary ability and spiritual power, succumbed to its unfriendly environment and perished.
The last line of the paragraph stuck with me, as it so reminds me of our synagogue building and its dramatic rescue. “Those of us who in our unwisdom said a generation ago that it ought to die judged after the outward appearance. Those who protested that it must not die, took counsel with the spirit that animated them, saw the invisible and against hope believed in hope.”

What Is an Eldridge?

To those of us who work here, the name of our street sounds completely natural. One day, Miriam Bader, the Director of Education and I were sitting around discussing walking tours when we suddenly realized that we had no idea for whom our own street was named!

I suggested that it must be a bird, thinking that Eldridge sounds remarkably like partridge, but Miriam found the winning answer: The street is in fact named after Lieutenant Joseph Eldridge, an American soldier in the War of 1812 who was killed after being scalped in Canada by Indians.

As reported in this 1813 letter, “In July 1813, the Ottawa chief, Blackbird, with 150 warriors, joined the British army which had invested the American position at Fort George at the mouth of the Niagara River. On 8 July, British and Canadian troops and their aboriginal allies ambushed an American patrol outside the fort. The fighting was vicious and casualties were heavy on both sides. During the action Lieutenant Joseph Eldridge of the 13th U.S. Infantry was killed by Blackbird's warriors. American witnesses claimed that he was murdered after being made prisoner and the American commander at Fort George lodged a protest with his British counterpart over this supposed atrocity. That officer asked the superintendent of the Indian Department to investigate the Eldridge incident and, on 15 July 1813, he visited Blackbird to admonish him and to point out that a reward of $5.00 would be paid for each American prisoner his warriors took alive.” Read more here.

In 1817, five streets on the Lower East Side were dedicated to the memories of men who died in the War of 1812: Ludlow, Chrystie, Allen, Forsyth and our good old Eldridge.

Find out more information on the 1817 naming.