Friday, December 23, 2011

A History of Two Holidays

 This year, the Hanukkah and Christmas holidays will overlap, with the fourth night of the Jewish festival of lights falling on Christmas Eve. Since we'll be celebrating both at the same time in 2011, it seems like a good time to consider the relationship between these two holidays.

If you've been on our "Hard Times" (formerly known as "Getting By") tour, you know a bit about the German-Jewish Gumpertz family, who resided at 97 Orchard in the 1870's and 80's, when the neighborhood was known as Kleindeutschland or "Little Germany". German immigrants formed this community based on their shared language, food and culture, but their religious practices were diverse: about 1/3 of the families were Catholic, 1/3 Protestant and 1/3 Jewish. Because this diversity was reflected in the population of 97 Orchard Street, Nathalie Gumpertz lived among many Lutheran neighbors who celebrated Christmas, including the Schneider family who ran the lager beer saloon downstairs.

A menorah (traditional candelabra used at Hanukkah) in the Gumpertz home at 97 Orchard Street

As American Jewish communities grew throughout the 19th Century, the relatively minor holiday of Hanukkah gained significance in the United States. This can be attributed to Hanukkah's proximity to Christmas, as well as the close quarters shared by urban immigrant families of different faiths. As Andrew Heinze writes in Adapting to Abundance, "The drama of Christmas exerted a strong influence on Jewish newcomers, as the spectacle of the Christmas tree and the rite of gift giving altered the celebration of Chanukah" (1).

 Jewish children were particularly enchanted with the very visible public display of Christmas gifts and decorations in media, shop windows and schools, prompting parents to enhance their holiday celebrations with Hanukkah gifts and even Christmas trees of their own. Heinze paints a vivid picture of Hanukkah celebrations in the Lower East Side, saying that "Passengers on the Second Avenue "El" the darkness of a December evening were struck by the rows of burning candles that illuminated the windows of tenement house after tenement house." (1)

Children admire holiday toy displays c.1908; Image courtesy Library of Congress

The earliest reference to Hanukkah in the online archive of the New York Times, dated December 29, 1889, focuses on Christian and Jewish communities celebrating winter holidays in tandem (or consecutively). The article, titled "A Jewish View of Christmas" is a re-printed message from the Jewish Messenger: "We Hebrews, disguise it as we may, cannot but feel the genial influence of the Christmastide. It meets us just as our joyous feast of Hanukkah has ended, which we celebrate with similar bounty. But we realize, none the less, the gentler aspects of the holiday, and strive to recognize as a daily lesson 'peace on earth, good will toward men'". (2)

Christmas Greetings c.1911

(1) Andrew R. Heinze, Adapting to Abundance: Jewish Immigrant, Mass Consumption and the Search for American Identity, Columbia University Press, 1990
(2) "A Jewish View of Christmas", The New York Times, December 29, 1889

Monday, December 19, 2011

Emma Lazarus: Poet of Exiles

You're probably familiar with a poem called "The New Colossus" that includes the line “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” It's an essential part of the American immigrant narrative that unfolded at Ellis Island in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty.

However, you may be less familiar with the poem's author, Emma Lazarus, a lifelong New Yorker born in 1849. Through the Summer of 2012, the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan is presenting Emma Lazarus: Poet of Exiles--the first major museum exhibit about Lazarus. This is a rare opportunity to learn more about a remarkable woman who broke gender barriers and left an important mark on American history.

Emma Lazarus

Though her Sephardic Jewish family had deep roots in the United States dating back to the colonial era, Lazarus lived through a period of unprecedented immigration. Living in New York, she witnessed the impact of thousands of newcomers beginning their lives in a new world. She captures the profound nature of this chapter of American history in "The New Colossus", her most famous work:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

--Emma Lazarus, 1883

To learn more about the life and work of Emma Lazarus, visit the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan.

--Posted by Kira Garcia

Friday, December 16, 2011

Creating Bridget Moore

Education Associate Sarah Litvin spent months preparing for our new "Meet Bridget" tour, which allows school children to visit with a costumed interpreter portraying Irish immigrant Bridget Moore, who lived at 97 Orchard Street in the 1860's. Here, she shares her thoughts on the process of bringing Bridget to life.

To transform the Irish Outsiders tour from a third to a first person narrative, I embarked on a major research project. Not only would our Costumed Interpreters need to know everything about Bridget Moore's experience at 97 Orchard Street, but they would also need to know everything that happened to Bridget up until that point.

Educator Emily Gallagher as Bridget Moore, visiting with school children

To build Bridget's memories,I divided Bridget's life into a few segments, and then learned everything I could about each one.

What was home life like in Ireland when Bridget was growing up? What was the life as a domestic servant like in New York City in the mid-1860s?
What do we know about life as a young married woman in the FIve Points area?
How did Bridget accomplish the day-to-day aspects of life at 97 Orchard Street?

This research then became a sourcebook which each actress training to play Bridget Moore must master.

In addition to building Bridget's memories, we also had to learn how Bridget Moore would have dressed and how she would have spoken. With the help of a fantastic summer intern, Jessica Pushor, and the inimitable scholar of Irish domestics, Margaret Lynch-Brennan, we uncovered some really neat sources.

To learn how Bridget Moore would have dressed, Jessica did extensive research into the dress of Irish peasantry, domestics in New York, and maternity clothing in mid-19th century. She unearthed the below photograph of an Irish domestic, which we used as the primary source to base our Bridget Moore costume.

For language, the source that proved most useful was a novel written in 1861 by Ann Sadlier, a woman who was, herself, an Irish domestic in New York before becoming an author.

The novel, Bessy Conway, is available online for free. It follows a young Irish emigrant from her home in Ardfinnan, County Tipperary, to New York. In her seven year stint as a domestic, Bessy encounters and learns to fight temptation in the big city. As she sees friends fall victim to drink, materialism, and lust around her, Bessy navigates the straight and narrow (and religious!) path. It was a great read and a great source to give insight into the irish immigrant communitiy in New York.

Here are a few choice ninetheenth-century Irish immigrant-isms we dicovered:
P.D.A: "Pour Dire Adieu" (To say godbye)
I don't care a snap: I don't care at all
shin-dig: a party
neither chick nor child: bachelor
astore: my darling
crummy: milk cow
posset: warm drink of sweet and sour milk

--Posted by Education Associate Sarah Litvin

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Faux Feast

We're stocking up on food here at the Tenement Museum, but it's not for a holiday party. It's faux food for our upcoming exhibit "Shop Life" which will explore the many businesses housed at 97 Orchard over the years, including a 19th Century German saloon run by John Schneider and his wife Caroline. While these replicas wouldn't taste very good, they sure look the part! Historic faux food expert Sandy Levins meticulously crafted each piece.

A pitcher of milk, Blutwurst Sausage, Sauerbraten in a pot, and Lebkuchen

Lebkuchen (in the rectangular pan) is a traditional treat from Nuremberg, Germany, where John Schneider was born. Similar to gingerbread, this cookie is flavored with spices like aniseed, coriander, cloves, ginger, cardamom and allspice, as well as nuts including almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts, or candied fruit.

Cut Lebkuchen (in the octagonal bowl), Pig's Feet, Heaven and Earth, Almonds, and Sauerkraut

"Himmel und Erde" or "Heaven and Earth", in the top right pot above, is a traditional German mixture of mashed potatoes and apples.

Traditional German pretzels--these look delicious!

Pickles are still a favorite treat here in the Lower East Side
If you've been on our "Foods of the Lower East Side" tour, you've sampled traditional German pretzels and pickles just like these. Though they've been thoroughly Americanized, both of these foods originate in immigrant communities.

The "Slop Bucket"
The Slop Bucket was a particular challenge to create. Caroline Schneider wouldn't have wasted much in her kitchen--food was a precious commodity. Here we have what is essentially a 19th-Century compost bin, with grape stems, apple cores, eggshells and various peels, all re-created in precise detail.

"Shop Life" will open in 2012--we'll keep you posted as the exhibit develops!
For more information about Sandy Levin's work creating replica foods, visit

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Virtual "Visit" With Victoria!

Over the past few weeks, there have been several sightings of a fourteen year-old resident of 97 Orchard Street, Victoria Confino, in Greenville County, South Carolina. She’s been transported via video conference into the classrooms of the entire 5th grade at Greenville County Schools—eight classes in total.

If you live more than a stone’s throw outside New York City, but know a student who you would like to Meet Victoria Confino, check out our Virtual Visit with Victoria program. From their home classroom, students take on the role of new immigrants in 1916 and virtually “visit” a costumed interpreter portraying 14-year-old Victoria Confino in her tenement apartment through a real-time video conference.

Educator Jess Varma as Victoria Confino

Visitors ask Victoria questions about adjusting to life on the Lower East Side. Students’ questions, interest, and level guide the Costumed Interpreter’s story through topics such as why people immigrate, cultural adaptation, the immigrant communities of Manhattan’s lower east side, and the definition of “American.” This program may be adapted for all levels of American History.

Here’s how it works:

1. Teacher prepares students for Confino Program using Distance Learning Teacher Preparation Materials, a step-by-step introduction to the experience of immigrating in 1916, the lower east side, and tenement life using the power point and activities provided as well as the Tenement Museum website,

2. Teacher works with students to brainstorm questions to ask Victoria Confino.

3. Students virtually “visit” with a Costumed Interpreter portraying Victoria Confino in her restored tenement apartment and interact with the costumed interpreter to ask questions about her apartment, jobs, clothes, food, culture, language, school, fun, etc. to learn her immigration story, and discover what their new lives will be like at 97 Orchard Street.

4. (Optional) Teacher leads students in a follow-up discussion of whether or not they would want to live at 97 Orchard Street in 1916 and engage in an age-appropriate activity that bridges the experience of immigrating in the past with the experience of immigration in the present.

The Museum uses a Polycom EX ViewStation unit for this program. Organizations that are setup with a similar unit, Polycom or other brands, should be able to participate. For more information, or to schedule a visit, email or call (212) 431-0233 ext. 255

--Posted by Education Associate Sarah Litvin

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Why I'm a Museum Member: Meet Rosalie Reinhardt

If we may be so bold, the generous and thoughtful folks who make up our group of Tenement Museum Members are pretty exceptional! Through their financial and intellectual support, they help keep the Tenement Museum strong, making sure we can continue to offer free ESL classes and tours for local community organizations. They also help support our educational programs--last year we welcomed more than 30,000 school children!

We try to thank our members whenever we can, so last night we invited them to a special reception to celebrate Harvey Wang's new exhibit of photographs at 103 Orchard Street. Rosalie Reinhardt, a lifelong New Yorker, is one of our long-standing supporters. She's been a Museum Member for 9 years!

Tenement Museum Member Rosalie Reinhardt Says: "This is New York!"  

If you ask Rosalie why she supports the Tenement Museum, she'll start by telling you that her mother Maisha was a Russian immigrant who received the new American name "Mary" at Ellis Island. Like so many other newcomers, Mary lived on the Lower East Side when she first arrived in the U.S. She met and married Rosalie's father at the age of 16 and helped him run his business as a glazier in Brooklyn.

It's clear that Rosalie still feels a deep connection to her mother's heritage. Acknowledging that there are many other worthy cultural organizations in New York, she supports the Tenement Museum specifically because it "speaks directly to my family's history", which is true for many of our members. Through the Tenement Museum, Rosalie supports her New York City community through our free and low-cost programs, while also enjoying the benefits of a great cultural institution!

Our deepest thanks to Rosalie and all of our Museum Members and visitors, who help keep us relevant and strong year after year. To become a member and enjoy free Museum admission and other benefits, visit our web site here.