Amy and Hanna in front of Streit's
Dim Sum, hand-pulled noodles and dumplings are a few of the food attractions of our neighborhood, but last Sunday visitors flocked to Eldridge Street for a completely different culinary experience: our annual Passover Nosh n’ Stroll. Amy Stein-Milford, the Museum’s Deputy Director, and Hanna Griff-Sleven, Director of Cultural Programs, walked people through the streets of the Lower East Side, visiting food establishments that have been Passover favorites of the Jewish Community here for generations.
Nosh n' Strollers tasting hand-ground horseradish at The Pickle Guys
#1. The Pickle Guys
The Nosh n’ Stroll began with a brief history of the Eldridge Street Synagogue, and from there visitors followed the smell of fresh horseradish to the Pickle Guys, located just a few blocks away on Essex Street. Following the Eastern European tradition of letting the pickles sit in salt brine with garlic, spices, and no preservatives, the Pickle Guys offer an array of tasty treats, bringing their patrons back to the days of pushcarts and pickle barrels. As a pickler myself, I recommend the pickled pineapple! (Just be warned, this tangy treat can become addictive!)
#2. Vanished Eateries like Gertel’s Bakery
Gertel’s Bakery used to sell shmura matzoh, the delicious, round hand-baked stuff. The former site of Gertel’s is now an empty lot on Hester Street (pictured here). As Amy pointed out, it has left a literal hole in the community.
Schapiro's Kosher Wine
#3. Shapiro’s Winery The dynamic duo not only led us to local shops that are in the midst of Passover prep, but pointed out others that are no longer in business, but have still left their mark on the neighborhood. The sign for Schapiro’s Kosher Wine can still be seen from the street and is a reminder of the changing times (and of many a person’s first drunken seder experience).
#4. Economy Candy
We recommend their chocolate-covered macaroons!
#5. Streit’s Bakery
Our stroll came to an end at Streit’s Bakery, which has provided Passover staples since 1925. Before even entering the bakery, the smell of fresh matzah (which Judy, the Education Director, and I realized smells remarkably similar to popcorn!) fills the air. As soon as you step into Streit’s, you are surrounded by Passover goodies: macaroons, candies and my personal favorite, chocolate covered matzah! Amidst the flow of Passover shoppers, you can even see the matzah coming straight out of the oven. What better way to get our Passover preparation started than with a little nosh of warm, fresh matzah!
Click on the following link to see Matzah Coming Fresh Out of the Oven at Streit’s!
\What are your favorite Lower East Side food landmarks – Passover-themed or otherwise?
For 125 years, the Eldridge Street Synagogue has been collecting stories: memories of life in a faraway country, the struggle of moving to America, the heyday of the Jewish Lower East Side and even life in the neighborhood today. These stories are what give meaning to the building, stories that are literally told by the walls, the windows and worn grooves in the floors. Today it is the docents who translate the synagogue’s history into spoken word and truly give the Eldridge Street Synagogue a voice. It is one of these docents who we are putting in the spotlight today: Herb Kass.
Intern Courtney Byrne-Mitchell and Docent Herb Kass
Herb celebrates his one-year anniversary as a docent this month. He became a tour-guide at the museum with the hope of reconnecting with his Jewish roots. I had the pleasure of speaking with Herb about his year as a docent, and during our conversation he explained that one of his favorite things about the museum is having the opportunity to meet visitors from all over the United States and the world. Herb has been able to connect with fascinating individuals, one of his fondest memories involving a family that had come from Turkey.
The family, Herb explained, brought to the museum their own family’s immigration story. Their ancestors emigrated from Spain 500 years earlier, and today the family still speaks Ladino, the traditional language of Sephardic Jews. The family was celebrating their son’s bar mitzvah, and despite a limited knowledge of English, they were still able to connect over the beauty of the space and shared traditions. Herb’s own paternal grandparents immigrated to the United States from Grodno (modern day Belarus) in the late 1800’s during the largest wave of Eastern European Jews to pass through Ellis Island. They, like many of the founders of the Eldridge Street Synagogue, lived on the Lower East Side before they moved out to Williamsburg, and eventually East New York and Queens where Herb grew up.
Herb Kass' family portrait after his uncle's bar mitzvah - early 20th century
Like the story of the Turkish family, each tour Herb gives is an opportunity for individuals to come together in a space in which people have found meaning for over a century. The Museum at Eldridge Street does more that provide Jewish history, it encourages visitors to explore and share the experiences of their own families. As I was writing this entry, it hit me. I truly became aware of the space’s role as a catalyst in forging connections, even between complete strangers. This is truly the magic of the Museum at Eldridge Street.
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.
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!