A Night Out on the Jewish Rialto

A Night Out on the Jewish Rialto, an event on Thursday, August 11th, honors the lively community of Yiddish theater on the Lower East Side. This event is the brainchild of our wonderful summer interns — Alyssa Constad, Leah Horowitz, David Schlenker, and Julia Gerasimenko. Their mission was to create an inspirational and entertaining  program that would hark back to the spirit and atmosphere of  the Jewish Rialto. We would love for you to participate in the historic spirit of the event, especially through our suggested glamorous theater-wear dress code! Here intern Julia Gerasimenko shares the history of the Rialto.

The Jewish Rialto was the Yiddish theater district that ran along Second Avenue from Houston Street all the way north to 14th street. This strip was home to theaters and restaurants, both of which were equally important to the scene. We came across information about this neighborhood while we were researching vaudeville acts on the Lower East Side. We started with the idea to recreate an evening of entertainment that would have been typical for our original congregants, but with a modern spin.

A Night Out will feature live music performed by Eletfa, a Hungarian music group comprised of  gypsy violins. These violins were typical of the parlors where both actors and patrons would nosh and schmooze before and after the theater. The parlors and restaurants would typically serve blintzes, cherry varenyki (dumplings), and other finger food. Sometimes patrons would even bring food over to the performances. We will serve knishes from Yonah Schimmel’s, snacks from Noah’s Ark Deli and Russ & Daughters, and beer from Brooklyn Brewery!

Thanks to one of our favorite blogs, the Bowery Boogie, and the NYPL for the image! Click for the link. Also see here: http://knickerbockervillage.blogspot.com/2010/01/roosevelt-theater-on-houston-street.html

At the theater, crowds were loud and performances were often interactive, whether or not they were intended to be. The language of choice was Yiddish. The types of acts varied from operetta, musical comedy, satiric or nostalgic revues; melodrama; expressionist and modernist plays; and of course vaudeville. We will entertain you with selections from the films of Eddie Cantor, a famous vaudeville star who is rumored to have lived on Eldridge Street. We encourage you to re-watch classic favorites to get inspired, such as Funny Girl!

In the Museum’s own  ‘Academic Angles’ journal, we read that the dance halls and the theaters were the two biggest competitors for attention with the synagogue (“Goldene Medine, Treyfene Medine: Judaism Survives Migration to America”, David Soyer). While it may seem slightly ironic that we are hosting this event in the main sanctuary of the Eldridge Street Synagogue, we pay tribute to the varied cultural activities of our neighborhood.

Between 1890 and 1940 there were over 200 Yiddish theaters or touring troupes in the US. Today there is a small but vital Yiddish theater community working to make its presence known in New York City. The Jewish Rialto specifically, a precious piece of Lower East Side culture, has faded just like the “Sidewalk of the Stars”, a 35-ft long sidewalk with worn down granite plaques  with the names of 58 great Rialto performers carved into them. This Sidewalk is in front of the now defunct Second Ave Delicatessen (on Second Avenue and E 9th St) and was installed in 1985.

Sidewalk of the Stars on the Jewish Rialto

More must be done to celebrate this great period and place in American Jewish culture. So we hope you can join us in celebrating the Jewish Rialto!

Tickets are $15 ($10 if you follow us on Facebook or Twitter). Please RSVP by emailing hgriff@eldridgestreet.org. 8PM – 11PM.

Categories: Art & Architecture, Blog, Events, Jewish History

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