Yiddishisms: Kesselgarden

While reading Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City over the weekend, I discovered a Yiddish word that I’m adding to my list of favorites: kesselgarden. According to Wikipedia,

Kesselgarden refers to the way “Castle Garden” was pronounced by Yiddish-speaking Eastern European Jews who settled in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Castle Garden was a facility on the southern tip of Manhattan that received immigrants from 1855 through 1890. Thousands of Jews entered the U.S. through Castle Garden prior to the opening of Ellis Island in 1892. “Kesselgarden” later became generalized to mean any situation that was noisy, confusing and chaotic.

Castle Clinton, renamed Castle Garden, was the first immigrant processing center in New York. This wonderful timeline, created by castlegarden.org, will help you navigate through the building’s history. Though replaced and eclipsed by its far more famous neighbor, Ellis Island, its name lives on (perhaps in infamy) in the Yiddish language. This wonderful example of the integration of American English words and even names into Yiddish is but one example of the intermingling of Americanization and tradition, something embodied in the Eldridge Street Synagogue as well. Check out the clip below for today’s Kesselgarden, a klezmer band bringing the sounds of yesteryear to today’s listening public.

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