Docent Spotlight: Bette Cohen
by Anna Shneyderman, Museum at Eldridge Street Intern
As an intern, I have recently started to give tours at the museum. I had the pleasure of interviewing Bette Cohen, one of our many lovely and knowledgeable docents. I asked about her experiences at the Museum at Eldridge Street and learned a little about her own personal history.
ANNA: When did you start as a docent at the Museum at Eldridge Street, and what drew you to this museum specifically?
BETTE: My background is in music. I attended Juilliard for vocal music and performed in opera and musical theatre for many years. I then received a Masters in Sacred Music from Hebrew Union College and served as an ordained cantor in a synagogue for nearly 18 years. I started giving tours at the Museum about a year and a half ago. My cousin is a journalist in India and comes back to visit the States about once a year. She came down to Eldridge Street and was completely astounded by its beauty. She felt the Museum was something that would spark my interest, and when she came over for dinner that night she encouraged me to get in touch with the staff. And so, I came in for an interview and began shadowing other docents.
ANNA: Do you have a personal connection to the Jewish immigrant experience on the Lower East Side?
BETTE: I am! My grandmother and her family came in through Ellis Island and they actually have a stone there with my maiden name: Wishengrad. My father came over with his family when he was three years old. They came from Brest-Litovsk, Russia which is close to the border of Poland.
ANNA: What has your experience been like giving tours?
BETTE: I absolutely love giving tours at the Museum. I had a group of seniors from the Upper West Side on a tour and received lovely emails thanking me for the experience. We also have many visitors who do not have a background in Judaism. Sometimes they apologize which makes me feel bad! I tell them, ‘We welcome you here. We enjoy having you here!’ Aside from Museum tours during the regular hours, we have wonderful social programs and concerts which I attend when I can.
ANNA: Thanks so much Bette!