This morning, I stopped by my favorite local deli to pick up a giant Arizona iced tea to get my morning going. Eyes closed, I nearly ran into the closed metal grill covering the store (disclaimer: no Education Coordinators were harmed in the making of this blog post.) And then I noticed the sign hanging on the front: Chinese New Year, Closed for One Day Only. I asked my coworkers what celebrations were taking place in our neighborhood, and discovered the Chinese New Year’s Day Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival taking place just a block over at Sara Delano Roosevelt Park. Intrigued, I stopped by to usher in the Year of the Rabbit with the rest of the museum staff.
A bit of history: Sara Delano Roosevelt Park opened in 1934, named after then-president Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s influential mother. The largest open space on the Lower East Side, the park’s 7.8 acres stretch from Canal all the way up to Houston Street. Creating the park was one of Robert Moses‘ first tasks as commissioner of the newly unified Department of Parks for New York City. An immediate success in this historically overcrowded neighborhood, the park still serves the local community. When I pass by every day, I see locals stretching their limbs with Tai Chi, children playing on the swings, and the occasional game of pickup soccer. It is quite amazing to realize that this is a space that has been serving a changing immigrant public for almost 80 years!
The festivities today certainly did not disappoint. We posed with dancing rabbits, saw adorable children decked in holiday finest, and, for the main event, heard the pop! of 600,000 firecrackers releasing confetti into the icy blue skies.
For more photos and videos from our Chinese New Year excursion, make sure to visit our facebook page.
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. 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:
- Pour Fox’s U-Bet syrup into cup, approximately 1 inch thick. Accept no imitations.
- Add a splash of milk about the same height, stir vigorously.
- Add seltzer to the mixture, ending slightly below the top of cup. Beware! Overflowing is an occupational hazard.
- Stir, serve and enjoy!
Are you a pickle person? Is deli your delicacy? Love lime rickies? Tell us about your favorite East Side Treat!
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
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 Rutgersin 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.”