My Jewish ancestors started in America on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Now it’s Chinese.
Kenny heard no Mandarin on the street during our day there, but “heavy Southern accents”–Fujianese, as NYC is home to many from Fujian province, down the coast by Taiwan. Yet we saw two Lanzhou beef noodle places, a dish from China’s west (yet loved everywhere) — flavored with 20 spices, including cinnamon.
My great-grandpa had a candy pushcart here (my father’s side were in nearby Williamsburg). We easily found 5 old schuls. Glorious highlight: the Eldridge Street Synagogue, 1852, an exquisitely restored gem, reopened 2007.
Outside the synagogue, it’s reasonably priced Chinese food, Buddhist temples, and grocers selling 2-foot long beans, plus rambutans and lychees. For the half century the Eldgridge synagogue was locked and disintegrating, nothing was stolen, the docent said. Good relations. Next year we want to come for “Egg Creams & Egg Rolls,” a street fair celebrating Jewish-Chinese community friendship.
It’s also very Puerto Rican, Hispanic, on the LES, and (this being NYC) other ethnicities, too.
Hipsters among them. (I guess I’m guilty of being a predecessor; like many 20somethings, I hung out at Max Fish on Ludlow St. in the early-’90s. And I lived briefly on a heroin-infested Suffolk St. midway thru Brown.)
Around 1973, mom took me here for great prices on blouses, suits & sweaters (she also shopped for upholstery, drapes), from the last Orchard Street garmentos. We got my brother’s tallis here. Now dumpling makers (pork & leek) sell to students from Dr. Sun Yat Sen Middle School, while an African American monk lights incense at the Buddhist Association, an active temple.
Eldridge has a proper museum on the ground floor, with these old neighborhood signs.
We also found these synagogues:
 the old Norfolk St. Synagogue/Ansche Chesed, 1849, now Angel Orensanz Cultural Foundation, a performance space thanks to a wowwing Spanish sculptor;
 Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, sad-looking all boarded up and overgrown with weeds, though preservationists are trying to raise funds;
 on Broome St., Kehilat Kadosha Janina, the only Greek (Romaniote) schul in the Western hemisphere, open sometimes;
In China, we often lamented the loss of culture to modernization, the Cultural Revolution. Our own material heritage is disappearing, here. You can see Streit’s Matzoh, but go quickly. Schapiro’s Wine closed only a few years ago.
And this isn’t on the preservationists’ list, just background. Soon it will be gone.
PS Of course there’s the awesome LES Tenement Museum I didn’t mention since it’s so well known; at least around here schools or synagogues run trips there.
- It is time to talk about L.E.S. (orensanznyc.wordpress.com)