Internship Week One: Egg Rolls, Egg Creams, and Empanadas Festival

By Emma Friedlander

Although I only moved to New York from Kansas City a little over a week ago, I’d like to think I’m already adapting to this unique way of life. I’ve quickly learned to appreciate the dexterity needed to maneuver the New York subway system, and am beginning to master the art of jaywalking.  In Chinatown, my fellow interns and I are starting to figure out the best places to get dumplings for less than two bucks, and more importantly, what’s actually in the dumplings.

But some of the most exciting changes I’ve encountered are at my internship with the Museum at Eldridge Street. We’ve only been here for a few days, but already the summer interns have been thrust into the vibrant and varied work of the Museum.Our tasks range from designing pamphlets, to assembling egg creams, to decorating yarmulkes and Puerto Rican fans. All of these efforts are part of the preparations for the Egg Rolls, Egg Creams, and Empanadas Festival, which will take place this Sunday, June 7, from 12 to 4 pm.

This year’s event will be the 15th iteration of the annual festival. The celebration will feature the beloved activities from years past, as well as several new elements — most notably, the inclusion of Puerto Rican culture, and hence “empanadas”. Hanna Griff-Sleven, Director of Cultural Programming for the Museum at Eldridge Street, explains the inclusion of the Puerto Rican community in this year’s festival, and what this signifies about community in the Lower East side.

“There is a very old but small Puerto Rican community that has a history on the Lower East Side,” says Hanna. “It’s definitely a culture that exists almost like the Jewish culture — it’s there, but not in full sight. It seemed like a nice idea to bring it up to the forefront, and it fit very well.”

Besides delicious empanadas, this year’s Festival will then feature arts and culture from Puerto Rican as well as Chinese and Jewish culture. Hanna explained to us that when deciding which forms of folk art to include in the festival, she aimed to choose traditions from the three cultures that have a connection, in order to emphasize the commonalities found in cultures around the globe. These include side-by-side demonstrations of Jewish scribal arts and Chinese calligraphy, which approach writing in the same spiritual, focused way, as well as paper-folding and paper-cutting traditions from all three cultures.

A Jewish scribe and Chinese calligrapher work side by side at the Egg Rolls and Egg Creams Festival.

A Jewish scribe and Chinese calligrapher work side by side at the Egg Rolls and Egg Creams Festival.
Photo: Kate Milford

Because of the variety of cultural craft making at the festival, we summer interns have been busy making art demos as well as crafty tzedakah boxes. These include some beautiful lacy paper fans by intern Harriet Zucker, as well as some very lumpy, saggy tzedakah boxes by me.

The behind-the-scenes work that goes into the Festival is staggering, and for the Museum’s staff, exciting and challenging all at once. It’s the time of year when an order is placed for 150 pounds of challah dough, hours are spent debating the logistics of pickling with local vendors, and the staff dedicate themselves to formulating a foolproof calculation for how much milk, seltzer, and syrup should be purchased for the egg creams — a calculation that, despite these efforts, has yet to be perfected.

The efforts that go into creating the Festival also go beyond the hard work of the Museum at Eldridge Street’s staff and interns. As the celebration is a big community event, it requires the help, collaboration, and dedication of the fellow organizations and individuals that inhabit the city. Every year, the Museum is able to rely on the passionate involvement of artists, educators, and spiritual leaders from all three cultures, as well as the attendance of the Festival by New Yorkers from every culture, and experience.

Similarly, although every summer intern, staff member, and docent may come from a different background, we are all able to work together with the aim of making sure the Festival flows into “controlled chaos” in the most rewarding and exciting way possible. This is not because we have a specific dedication to any one of these three cultures at the Festival, but rather because we appreciate the importance of their coming together in order to foster a true community event.

When I first learned about the internship opportunities at the Museum at Eldridge Street a few months ago, it did not cross my mind that my duties would entail learning the rules to Mah Jongg or the history of Puerto Rican mask making. But since actually working on this festival, the relevance of celebrating three disparate global cultures in the context of a nineteenth-century synagogue has been made entirely clear to me. The story of the Museum at Eldridge Street is not only the story of the Jewish immigrants of the Lower East Side, but the story of all people who have found a home in this section of New York city, and even in the global community as a whole. By beginning our summer with this event, we summer interns have been immediately exposed to the true significance of the Museum at Eldridge Street.

Categories: Blog, Events, Lower East Side

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