Envisioning a Community Collaboration
When I first imagined a Chinese-Jewish Festival over fifteen years ago, I knew that it would be an undoubtedly fantastic event for the neighborhood. Plus, I knew it would be wonderfully relevant to our museum’s celebration of the immigrants who make our neighborhood special. I imagined Chinese and Jewish artists and musicians sitting side by side informing the public about their traditions.
What I’ve experienced every year since our very first festival back in 2000 has far exceeded my expectations. Beyond the exchange of culture is a deep feeling of community and joy that emanates from all the participants and festival goers. This is a New York Moment.
Evolution of The Neighborhood
Walking south on Eldridge Street you will find yourself in Chinatown. The streets are lined with dumpling shops and markets that sell more than 20 varieties of soy sauce, dried foods, and fish so fresh it still moves. You are surrounded by 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 find traces of the neighborhood’s former inhabitants.
You might notice Harris Levy Fine Linens and remember that your bubbe went there to buy her wedding linens. Perhaps you’ll stumble upon a tenement with Moorish windows and a faded Star of David on the façade – a reminder that the building was once a synagogue.
Egg Rolls, Egg Creams & Empanadas Festival
If you’ve been lucky enough to visit us in June over the past 16 years, you might have thought you’d 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 Jewish music will slowly fade into a Chinese folk song led by bandmaster Mr. Hoy. You’ll watch members of the Qi Shu Feng Peking Opera as they transform themselves into monkey kings and tigers, flipping through the air.
In the last few years, we’ve updated the festival to include our Puerto Rican neighbors. Now you will also hear the dramatic beat of Mambo, Plena and Salsa music.
You shake your head twice, no three times, and enter the 1887 landmark Eldridge Street Synagogue. A Chinese calligrapher sits beside a Hebrew scribe, each demonstrating their sacred art. To your left, you might find a woman making Mundillo, or traditional Puerto Rican lace. A bit deeper into the sanctuary, you’ll hear the golden voice of a cantor singing beautiful songs of prayer. He so loves his work that you, too, become intrigued by his songs and his stories.
A Celebration of New York’s Truly Eclectic Culture
You’ll learn that the synagogue is still a part-time place of worship, home to a tiny remaining congregation. Most importantly, you’ll learn that this neighborhood was always an immigrant neighborhood, though one people and its culture has been replaced by another. You’ll recall that the shops that now boast cheerful Chinese signs were once written in Yiddish. Where just years ago vendors sold yarmulkes, tallisim and prayer books, shopkeepers now peddle silk slippers, calendars and bright decorations.
Mamaloshen and lokshen are now replaced by Chinese, Spanish, pulled noodles and savory rice. Somewhere this odd juxtaposition of Chinese, Jewish, and Puerto Rican culture has turned into a day of mutual respect and sharing. It’s New York after all, where benign indifference can quickly turn to neighborly love, and egg roll meets egg cream meets empanada for an afternoon of shared delight.
-Hanna Griff-Sleven, Director of Programs
Please join us at this year’s 17th Annual Egg Rolls, Egg Creams and Empanadas Festival on Sunday, June 18th from 12:00-4:00 pm.
To learn more and to register, please visit our festival event page.