Jewish New York–An Interview with Paul Kaplan
Paul Kaplan, author of Jewish New York: A History and Guide to Neighborhoods, Synagogues and Eateries, shares his thoughts on the rich Jewish history of New York City in this interview with Museum at Eldridge Street intern Rose Cronin-Jackman. You can join Paul Kaplan for our Jewish New York panel discussion on Sunday, February 21 at 2 pm here at Eldridge Street. Panelists include Evan Giniger, co-owner of Kossar’s Bialys, Zalmen Mlotek, Creative Director of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, and writer and filmmaker Laurie Gwen Shapiro.
What inspired you to write Jewish New York and delve into this history?
I wanted to write a cross-genre book that contains both history and travel, and that would inspire, educate and entertain. Jewish New York is about the cultural history and the story behind the sites. I didn’t want to only include secondary sources that could be found on the internet. I interviewed curators, historians, and shop-keepers for original quotes that provide a rich texture to the reader.
What criteria did you look for when deciding to feature a landmark or location?
I asked these questions: Is there something interesting culturally about this site? Does this site provide a way of discussing something, such as Jewish culture or food? Is there an interesting story to tell? Generally, something the reader would want to see and something that would interest them.
What aspects of finding these locations and writing the book did you find most rewarding?
I found it rewarding to find hidden or little-known places and shed light on them. Learning about some of the key historic people and getting to speak about them to so many different audiences, and bring them to life. I found that really rewarding.
What was one fact you learned about Jewish History that surprised you?
The first Jews who came to New York in 1654 were from Recife, Brazil and there were only twenty-three of them. In New Amsterdam, which had only been around for thirty years, they were turned away by Peter Stuyvesant. They petitioned to the Dutch West India Company and were granted permission to return.
How do you envision the future of Jewish History in New York?
Number one, I think it’s very important to preserve a lot of the architecture and exterior of the buildings. In NYC everything is changing so quickly and it always has. I like to think a lot of [buildings] will be preserved. Second, I hope there’s a renewed interest in Jewish culture, theater, food places and exhibits. I hope that there’s a sustained interest in Jewish history; an interest in learning about and preserving this culture.
What Jewish cultural landmarks and locations around the city would you recommend?
- The Jewish Museum (1109 Fifth Ave at 9nd St)
- Center for Jewish History – “It’s five museums in one. You can learn about the Sephardic Jews, German Jews, and more. You can use their archives to do family research.” ( 15 W 16th St)
- Museum of Jewish Heritage, which now also houses the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene. (36 Battery Pl)
- Tenement Museum– “I highly recommend this one.” ( 103 Orchard St)
- Museum at Eldridge Street, a landmark site, the 1887 Eldridge Street Synagogue (12 Eldridge St)
- Russ and Daughter’s Café on Orchard Street- an off-shoot of the original location on Houston Street (127 Orchard St)– Paul wrote a detailed post about this location on his blog
- Yonah Schimmel Knishery– “”This is the oldest Knishery in NY!” (137 E Houston St)
- ” Classic Jewish Delis like Katz’s Deli (205 E Houston St) or Carnegie Deli (854 7th Ave)”
Oldest Congregation in New York
- Shearith Israel Synagogue—est. in 1664, not built until 1720 ( 8 W 70th St)
Kaplan is currently working on a similar book that merges history and travel about South Florida to be released by Pelican Press in the fall of 2017.
More information about Kaplan and his publications can be found on his website, http://www.paulkaplanauthor.com/.
What are your favorite Jewish New York places? Tell us here!