Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rosh Hashanah Memories

This week marks the start of the Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah, and the first of the High Holidays. In her memoir, Miriam's Kitchen, Elizabeth Ehrlich remembers her mother-in-law Miriam's dedication to the preservation of Jewish traditions, especially the celebration of this important day.

Miriam, a holocaust survivor, was born in Poland and ultimately immigrated to the United States. But for a time in her early twenties, she lived in Israel. Miriam had to adapt both her daily life and her religious traditions to life in this new--and very different--country.

Ehrlich writes, "[Miriam] remembers the struggle to keep the milk, when she had it, from spoiling in the heat. No refrigeration, and often no ice. Once in those early days...Miraim and her mother prepared the holiday fare. They improvised menus known back in Poland with scant Israeli ingredients. Miriam made noodle sheets with an egg from her backyard hen-house, kneading and rolling and cutting the silken dough on a wooden board. She had a fowl slaughtered, and this became soup and a filling for kreplekh, dumplings; she baked a savory pudding and a sweet dessert. And then the mercury rose."

Worried that her holiday feast would spoil, she sent her husband to find ice. Off he went on his bicycle, and finally found some three towns away. Miriam improvised a cooler by putting the ice into a basin and stacking containers of food on top.

"And then the neighbors started to come," she remembered. "The whole street had heard of Jacob's coup and all shared Miriam's predicament. 'Each one brought something. Everything went into that basin.' she shrugged, 'We were neighbors. at the very end one family brought borsht--beet soup. They put the bottle on top...when i went back later to get my food, the bottle had turned over, and there was borsht on everything, all over. Everywhere'".

Many Rosh Hashanah meals were prepared at 97 Orchard Street over the years. No doubt Miriam's adaptation to scarcity in new surroundings, as well as her generosity with neighbors (despite the inconvenience) would have sounded very familiar to the many families who made their homes in our Tenement.

Shanah Tovah, Happy New Year!

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Tribute to the Rowdy Irish Musicals of Ned Harrigan & Tony Hart

Here at the Tenement Museum, we talk a lot about the day-to-day difficulties of life in a 19th century tenement. But even the poorest New York City dwellers sought entertainment when they could. Before movies, television, and even radio, theatergoers flocked to see performers like the famed Irish American actor and playwright Ned Harrigan and his partner Tony Hart, who kept their audiences in stitches with their vaudeville routines.

On October 13, the Irish Art Center will present a tribute to Harrigan & Hart at Symphony Space in New York --a rare chance to enjoy the hilarious energy of these early icons of musical comedy.

Tony Hart and Ned Harrigan in "The Little Frauds"

The duo was known for finding humor in the everyday experiences of working class citizens, bringing some much-needed levity to communities struggling to stay afloat in tough circumstances. In "Squatter Sovereignity" a New York City shantytown (home to many Irish immigrants) was the setting for a raucous musical comedy about a broken engagement and the resulting family battle.

Click here to get tickets for the upcoming tribute to Harrigan & Hart featuring Irish musician Mick Moloney and others. We think these songs and stories have weathered the last hundred years quite nicely--and who says a history lesson can't be funny?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

So Much to Celebrate at 103 Orchard Street!

After a year and a half of construction and many more years of planning, we were absolutely thrilled to host our first event at the Sadie Samuelson Levy Immigrant Heritage Center yesterday. Local elected officials, staff and friends of the museum gathered to celebrate a major milestone as we inaugurated the building with a naturalization ceremony for 18 New Yorkers from 16 different nations.

New citizen Istvan Becze with his son; Photo by Mario Tama, Getty Images

The ceremony was officiated by Judge Robert A. Katzmann, who is the son of a refugee from Nazi Germany and the grandson of immigrants from Russia.

District Director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Andrea J. Quarantillo acted as M.C. As she recited the list of nationalities represented in the group (from Ecuador and India to Italy and China), she remarked "16 Nations! That's America, but that's also New York!"  Indeed, it was a wonderful "only in New York" moment.

New citizens pose with their certificates
Swedish-born Jonas Malmsten (second from left) with his girlfriend Delethia Ridley and friends Alice Tan Ridley Sidibe and Sean Ridley 

We were joined by New York State Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate D. Levin, City Council Member Margaret Chin and Controller John Liu, as well as many other supporters and friends who helped make our new Visitor and Education Center a reality.

When the Center opens to the public next month, we'll have an amazing array of new offerings including a new original film about the Museum, an exhibition of photographs by Harvey Wang, a demonstration kitchen and state-of-the-art classrooms. We hope you'll visit our new home soon!

Tenement Museum President Morris Vogel with Museum Founder Ruth Abram

Tenement staff members celebrate


Monday, September 12, 2011

Dated Dialect: The Forgotten Slang of Centuries Past

As we sometimes discuss on our tours, Orchard Street wasn't always as tidy as it is today. In the late 19th century, New York was known as one of the dirtiest cities in the world, with refuse and horse dung piling up on the streets. Back then, folks had a flamboyant term for the resulting stench--"kennetseeno"--a multisyllabic synonym for "stinky". This was primarily a British term, but the population--and as a result, the language--of New York has always been diverse.

In 1896, New York got its first official santitation system, and things began to smell a little sweeter. But some things never change. Just this summer, New York Magazine declared one of our neighboring blocks to be the stinkiest in the city. But don't be put off--the city's not nearly as "kennetseeno" as it used to be!

Phew--You can bet this was kennetseeno!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Dated Dialect: The Forgotten Slang of Centuries Past

In the early days of 97 Orchard Street, folks had whole vocabularies of venerable vernacular which are totally unfamiliar to us today. For instance, what on earth does this one mean? "That's a huckleberry above my persimmon". Here's a hint: it has nothing to do with fruit salad.

This saying once meant something like "That's a bit out of my league (or beyond my ability)." Conversely, to say "I'm your huckleberry" meant "I'm the right man for the job."

If you love tales of the old American West, you might find this one familiar--it's commonly associated with the legendary 19th century gambler, gunfighter and dentist Doc Holliday, who was portrayed by Val Kilmer in the 1993 film Tombstone, and again by Dennis Quaid in 1994's Wyatt Earp.

Doc Holliday--He's your huckleberry.