Roberta and Nancy, our archivist, enjoying our most recent gala
Master Docent Roberta Berken shares:
In my capacity as a docent I am fortunate to meet people from all over the world and the country. Here are some of their stories.
In East London in the l9th century it was the custom for street peddlers to specialize in a particular item. Often the Jewish peddlers would sell fish and the Irish peddlers would sell potatoes, According to one of our visitors from London the Irish and the Jewish peddlers got together and decided to sell fried fish and potatoes together. Thus the origin of fish and chips. Now is this a fish story?? On the Lower East Side in the 1890′s one of our visitors described her great grandfather as a custom peddler. He would question his neighbors as to what they wanted to purchase for their needs. He would do their shopping for them for a fee. Thus the first personal shopper.
In a town in North Carolina there is a very special Torah. A visitor to our sanctuary while standing near the Ark told how her great grandfather fled his shetl with the Torah from the towns’ synagogue. While running from the shetl the soldiers fired on the band of Jews. One of the bullets hit the Torah which her great grandfather was holding saving her great grandfather but leaving a hole that went through the Torah cover and most of the Torah scroll. The Torah saved his life. She said that the Torah is in their synagogue and is used on special occasions.
Maybe something can be done about the weather…
As the Museum’s archivist, it has been a treat to be able to look at each item in our collection. What are my favorites? It’s so hard to say, but this sign, from the Museum’s sizable collection of Hebrew and Yiddish signs collected from around our Lower East Side neighborhood, is on my list.
It’s small, about the size of a standard sheet of paper. Its frame is nicked and worn, and the sign itself is stained. Why do I like this so much? I like how it looks, its authentic patina of age. But the deal was sealed when I found out what it says.
The Hebrew writing is the beginning of the Blessing for Dew: “V’ten Tal u’Matar“; in English, “And give rain and dew.” This sign signals that this blessing should be added to daily prayers, and it would be hung on the synagogue’s bimah during the dry season in Israel, roughly from fall through early spring.
I was curious about why the sign had clearly gotten wet — its letters are blurred and its hanger is rusted. I wanted to think that it had hung outside and that its instructions had produced results — that it had worked and brought rain. But probably, like so much else at the Eldridge Street Synagogue, it fell victim to the elements when the main sanctuary was shut in the 1950s. Still, I love that the cycles of nature are part of prayer and faith, and that asking for rain would be a community aspiration.
As this brutal winter drags on, maybe we should organize a collective prayer for an early Spring!
Written by Nancy Johnson, Museum Archivist