With hopes for a cultural and educational day out recently from the suburbs of New York, we headed out to the Lower East Side for an afternoon of exploration. A long time New Yorker myself, I have vivid memories of exploring the area when I first moved to the city, with visits to the pickle seller and then back to my apartment for sacred viewings of “Crossing Delancey,” the film with Amy Irving that brought the Lower East Side into the lives of many, mainly tourists, back in the 1980s.
I know what the area has to offer my kids in terms of Jewish history and coming face to face with the reality of how immigrants lived and ate when they first arrived, and it was time for us to pay a proper visit.
We started our day tasting old time delicacies, starting out at The Pickle Guys on Essex Street. Following in Guss’ Pickles footsteps, which moved to Brooklyn a few years ago, they sell sour pickles, pickled tomatoes, olives, mushrooms, giardiniera and hot pickles out of barrels. A few tips: the lines are long, so be patient and use very good manners or the pickle guys will snap at you otherwise. Then we headed to Kossars Bialys on Grand Street, where they make homemade bialys and bagels on the premises. My kids loved not only watching the bialy makers at work, but they got to chip into the production process and help roll the dough and scoop onion into the centers. Last stop was Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery for a taste of traditional knishes. It’s a NYC institution and we munched on potato, cherry and spinach flavored baked dough.
Then we headed to the Museum at Eldridge Street, the first great house of worship built by East European immigrants in America. We all took an organized tour (which run every hour on Sundays) and I was amazed at how well my kids paid attention. It was partly due to the young, vivacious tour guide but also because the architecture, both interior and exterior, is so beautiful. We learned that between 1881 to 1924, 2.5 million Jews came to the area seeking religious freedom from persecution in other countries. Back then it was called “Jew Town.” Funded by four employed members of the community from Eastern Europe (during a time when work was scarce and people lived in tenements), the synagogue built in 10 months for $90,000. They rented out seats to pay for the synagogue’s upkeep. The interior of the synagogue is stunning with a Moorish, eclectic design. The tour was rich in information about the new immigrant’s experience and how their lives intertwined with the synagogue.
It was a day full of good eats, interesting sights and fulfilling history.
– Holly Rosen Fink
Holly Rosen Fink is a mother, marketing consultant, writer and blogger for a number of sites, as well as her own, The Culture Mom.