Archive for January, 2011

Jan 24 2011

The People You’ll Meet

Published by under Lower East Side

One of the best parts of being at Eldridge Street are the many wonderful people who come through our doors. Here Visitor Services Associate Sharon Stein shares some of her favorite encounters of the week.

Last Monday, a 14-year-old boy with his confirmation class from San Diego asked me what his entrance fee would have been if not paid by his chaperones.  I told him $6.00 whereupon he went to the tzedakah (charity) box and deposited $6.00.  What a mensch.

Also, on Monday, while playing “Jewish Geography” with a couple from Chicago (being a Chicago native) we established that they knew my best friend (whom I’ve known since I was 13) and her husband. The husband had gone to University together and they went to the same synagogue and country club where they socialized. 

 A participant in our Tu B’Shvat Festival called today and in the course of our conversation he told me how last year he came for Tu B’Shvat and planted a marigold.  It grew and he then decided if he could grow a marigold then his place of work, Stamford, Ct. Hospital, could grow them as well.  They did.   Now they are planning a hospital garden.  A hospital healing garden will now grow from that 1 marigold seed. 

 You gotta love this place.

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Jan 19 2011

Seven Steps to Successful Family Research

Published by under Lower East Side

As a historic site, we often field questions about how to conduct family research. To help you discover your family history, we asked intern Chelsea Dowell to do some research. A student at Pratt Institute’s graduate program in historic preservation, Dowell has lots of experience researching historic buildings in NYC and beyond. Here she provides 7 steps to find out more about your family stories.

Intern Chelsea Dowell outside the Eldridge Street Synagogue

1. Record what you already know.

Write down the names of all your known relatives along with general dates and places. Work backward - start with current relatives and move back through time. Ask living relatives for additional names or information; they may be able to help you fill in blanks.

Tip: Be mindful of the time period in which you are looking. For example, be sure to look for information under both husband and wife. A crucial record of the wife’s may be catalogued under her husband’s name.

2. Create a checklist of historical records that can help you research your family history.

Do you know that your relative was in the military? Add veteran records to your list of possible resources. Was your great-grandfather involved in a court case? You may be able to find those legal recrods. Did your relative own a business? If so, they may be listed in a city directory. Other helpful historical documents may include naturalization records, land transactions, marriage certificates and business documents. Use this list of records as a checklist. By following the list and researching each type of document, you will accumulate more information and begin to develop the story of your ancestor’s life.

Tip:  Set a budget for your research and think carefully about when and where you want to spend your money. Requesting certain documents may cost some money. Determine what types of records will be the most beneficial to your search and spend your money there.

3. Mine the census records using and other online sources.

New York City census worker, c. 1935

Once you know the address of your ancestor, check the census records. These are organized by address and will include information like occupation, age and birth place. The census lists the head of the household (usually the oldest male in the apartment) and all other occupants of the unit. is a great resource forcensus records – check your public library to see if they have a subscription. If so, you’ll be able to use the service for free on their premises. If not, it may be worth it to pay the yearly fee. Another  useful census site is Heritage Quest.  You should check both! Each site can yield different results.

Tip: The census records can provide valuable clues to other members of your family. They can help fill out family trees more completely or reveal more distant relatives who may have been living in the same apartment. Record the names of the people living with your known relatives and investigate them a little further. Researching in this way may uncover lost of unknown relatives.

4. Check your municipal archive.

Marriage certificates and records of birth and death can be found at the municipal archives. This may be a great way to fill in gaps in personal information – names, dates, or addresses. Additionally, these documents are important in their own right. Seeing your mother’s birth certificate can be a heartwarming experience. Ask the employees if it’s possible to print a copy for your own keeping. 

Tip: Be prepared to man the  microfilm machines on your own! Archive rooms can be busy and you may not receive the assistance you need.

5. Visit the National Archives at

This is an invaluable site for those doing genealogical research. Here you’ll find documents that may otherwise be difficult to find – veteran service records, land records, naturalization records and court case files. This site may be helpful in uncovering several types of documents from your checklist.

Tip: Keep in mind that records from this site often have to be ordered and received via mail. This is also a site that requires payment for many requests. Ordering land records costs $40. This may be a slower moving, long-term resource, so keep that in mine when setting any schedules for your project.

6. Use city directories and historic guidebooks.

King's Handbook

If your ancestor was a business owner or a service provider, they may be listed in historic directories. Not unlike the yellow pages, these books were published as the ultimate guidebook for city dwellers. They included everything from piano makers to cobblers, lawyers to chimney sweeps. The listings often included the name of the proprietor, the address of the business and sometimes even the owner’s home address.

Tip: If you are searching in New York or Boston, the King’s Handbook of both cities are catalogued online at Google Books. Those may be a good place to start. If you are looking elsewhere, ask your librarian where you might find historic directories of your city.

7. Try other genealogy websites.

Your family research will most likely be an ongoing process, so there’s always more places to look! If your family is Jewish, visit This is a fantastic website for research on Jewish ancestors – you can even search by Eastern European shtetl. This website has a large community and you may connect with someone who has information about your ancestor’s village or a distant relative. If you know that your family came through New York, try the immigration records at Caste Garden. This website  – – is a searchable database of the names of individuals who entered New York through the Castle Garden gateway. Websites like this are useful because they don’t take too much time to explore, but may yield valuable information about your relative.

Castle Garden

Stay tuned for Chelsea’s experience researching turn-of-the-century mikvah operator Gittel Natelson!

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Jan 05 2011

Seeing Stars

Published by under Lower East Side

If you’ve ever built a house or renovated your home, you know the end is never the end. There’s always a room that needs finishing, a scuffed wall that needs re-painting, an inoperable electrical line. Though our window designed by Kiki Smith and Deborah Gans has been up for more than two months, secret, unseen adjustments have been made. Protective glass put in. Fine-tuning to the window’s center star.

Seeing Stars

And so today is somewhat bittersweet. Last decisions for the window were made. The commission of this monumental stained-glass window for our landmark site has been a more-then-two-year effort. From the board’s forward-thinking decision to commission the window – a contemporary artwork for our Victorian-era site – to the search for the perfect artist. To the wonderful experience of working with Kiki and Deborah, who have brought new life to this century-old building.

In a few days the scaffolding will come down, bringing an end of sorts to this extraordinary, one-of-a-kind project. And a new beginning for Eldridge Street.  Happy 2011.

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Jan 04 2011

Top 10 of 2010

Published by under Lower East Side

Happy 2011 from the Museum at Eldridge Street! In the spirit of New Year, we are pleased to present our “Top 10 Highlights of 2010 at Eldridge Street.”

Museum staff cleans up nice for the 2010 gala. Photo: Leo Sorel

1. Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. Our stained-glass window designed by artist Kiki Smith and architect Deborah Gans is a true marriage of old and new. Suspended above the ark in our 1887 landmark, borrowing a decorative motif found throughout the synagogue, and sporting a celestial blue, this monumental artwork is a wonderful new addition to our 19th-century space.

Photo: Kate Milford

2. Longest Chanukah on Record. According to the Miracle of Lights the oil burned for 8 days. But here at Eldridge Street we had a 30-day holiday extending from November 22 to December 23, as more than 450 school children and 20 classes joined us for our Chanukah program. That’s a lot of sufganiyot, or holiday donuts!
3. A Cameo Role on Boardwalk Empire. The HBO show filmed a pivotal scene here at Eldridge Street. Al Capone has his own coming-of-age moment at a bar mitzvah, and from then on foregoes his youthful beanie and instead dons a fedora.

4. Most Intrepid Docents. Able to leap tall snowdrifts in a single bound, give countless tours in a single day, and field the most difficult of historical questions with ease and wisdom, it’s no wonder that Michele Obama declared our docents a national treasure with a 2010 Preserve America Steward Award.

5. Pluckiest Summer Interns. Ever. Hailing from L.A., Guangzhou, China, Delhi…New York, and more; coming via Brandeis, Vassar, Grinnell, Barnard, New School and Bard College, this team of six made a hot summer warmer – in the good sense – and helped research, write, lead tours and infuse our 1887 building with new energy.

Last day at the Shul with Hanna, "Momma Intern"

6. Most Eggs-traordinary Block Party. Our Egg Rolls & Egg Creams Festival turned 10 this year. To celebrate, we served 700 egg-roll and egg-cream combos and hosted 35 performers and folk artists, including two flying Chinese opera artists, 6 bedecked Bukharan musicians, and mahjongg mavens old and young. More than 8,000 people joined in the fun.

Photo: Kate Milford

7. Best TV coverage. Thanks to CBS Sunday Morning Show’s Chanukah story “Festival of Lights,” people from Arizona, South Carolina and beyond visited the Museum and took in our glorious new stained-glass window.
8. Most Meaningful Naming Opportunity. Removed from their perch above the synagogue ark and ensconced on the Museum’s entry level are 208 historic glass blocks. Dedications associated with this Tribute Wall provides a wonderful, permanent way to honor or memorialize someone dear to you.

Photo: Kate Milford

9. Tastiest Walking Tour. We kicked off our Pre-Passover Nosh & Stroll with a vintage bottle of Schapiro’s wine, famously you can cut it with a knife, and spiced up our tour with matzah hot off the Streit’s conveyor belt. 50 people enjoyed the culinary delights of the hood while learning about its history.

10. A True Snow Sanctuary. More than 175 brave souls and 5 klezmorim ventured out on December 26 for Klez for Kids, singing, dancing and “getting married” at our annual winter concert which culminated in an audience-enacted shtetl wedding.

Share your own 2010 Eldridge Street favorites here!

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