Friday, September 24, 2010

Visitors of the Week: Paulette Kaufman and Nancy Leonard

From left: Paulette and Nancy
Each week, we profile one of the many interesting visitors who stop by the Tenement Museum. Do you want to be our next Visitor of the Week? If you're planning to visit and would like to be interviewed, send us an email.

Meet Paulette Kaufmann and Nancy Leonard, friends who decided to take the Piecing It Together tour, visiting the homes of Jewish immigrants, the Levines and Rogarshevskys. Kaufmann, a New York native, had visited many years ago with her husband and described it as "such an enriching experience" that she was glad to return when Leonard decided to take a tour.

I was lucky enough to speak to them about the harshness of early immigrant life and why New York tourists ought to head over to the Tenement Museum.

When you first walked into the apartments you saw today, what was your immediate reaction?
PK: Small spaces. I was beginning to wonder how they survived.

And what did you learn about the immigrants who lived there?
PK: For me, it was a repeat so actually, I can remember more of the experience because I've come back a second time. I do a lot of historical research and I was doing some research on an immigrant who lived in the northern part of Manhattan. So I was remembering back to my experience here. I was looking at the severance records and I was looking at the other information that I had about him and I kept referencing back to the time I had been here so it's always nice to be able to come back and take a look again, now with that experience.

If you could ask an immigrant at that time any one question, what would it be?
NL: I think the obvious one from a historical perspective is "how did you survive?" because it just seems like a very difficult life, a lot of physical labor, and you sort of understand why people didn't live as long as we tend to live now. But I think more about the community, what it was like to grow up there, whether they went to school or not would be fascinating to know, and what they learned from it all.

Would you encourage others to visit the Tenement Museum?
PK: Oh, absolutely. As a tourist, you may think it's all about Rockefeller Center, but the city has great, great stories to tell on every corner and in every burrough. I've traveled all around the world, and I'm always interested when I'm going into "old" cities or older areas of cities. I want to know how people lived their lives or the change that was going on, so on and so forth. So I encourage anybody visiting New York to come down here and see a slice of the city that they probably didn't know about.

- Interview by Joe Klarl

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