Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Egg Rolls and Egg Creams 6/7/09

The Egg Rolls and Egg Creams Festival took place on Sunday June 7th 2009 on Eldridge Street where Chinatown meets the old Jewish Lower East Side.

I almost didn't make it to the festival because I was up all night the night before and I had to upload photos and video to my computer so I could delete them off the camera. I had filled up the memory card with photos and video from the Brooklyn Museum of Art's monthly free party Saturday night.

I got to the festival just in time to see the tail end of Chinese Opera performers acting out the story of the Monkey King, take a tour of the historic Eldridge Street Synagogue, listen to Klezmer music and watch a game of mahjongg.

The Egg Rolls and Egg Creams Festival also included lion dancing (which I unfortunately missed), Yiddish and Chinese lessons, Scribal art and Chinese calligraphy, tea ceramonies, hands on Challa making demonstrations and kosher egg rolls and egg creams for sale. To say the festival was a "unique slice of New York City life" is probably an understatement. It's this kind of cross-cultural event that makes New York City what it is.

The event was sponsored by the Eldridge Street Museum, which is located in the recently renovated and restored Eldridge Steet Synagogue (12 Eldridge Street between Canal and Division). The Eldridge Street Synagogoue is home to the Congregation Kahal Adath Jeshurun, which has met continuously for Sabbath and holiday services since the building first opened more than a century ago.

Between 1880 and 1924, two and a half million Eastern European Jews came to the United States. Close to 85 percent of them came to New York City, and approximately 75 percent of those settled on the Lower East Side.

Built in 1887 for the tens of thousands of Jewish immigrants already settled on the Lower East Side, as well as the hundreds of thousands who would arrive in the coming decades, New York’s first great East European synagogue "expressed the hope that the immigrants’ religion and culture would flourish on American soil." Before the construction of the Eldridge Street Synagogue Eastern European Jews met in rented halls, converted storefronts, renovated churches and other makeshift locations.

By the 1920s the congregation had dispersed far beyond the Lower East Side and immigration quotas stemmed the tide of new arrivals. In the 1950's the congregation could no longer afford the costly repairs and maintanience and started to meet in the street-level chapel rather than the sanctuary. By the 70's and 80's the synagogue had fallen in to such a grave state of disrepair that investigations showed that emergency stabilization was needed and if no work were done the building would collapse.

Public interest in the synagogue’s fate grew, and by 1986 the Eldridge Street Project was formed. The Eldridge Street Project conducted emergency repairs, secured National Historic Landmark designation for the building and raised over 15 million dollars over a 20 year period for the extensive renovations. The Eldridge Street Synagogue is now one of the last remaining built by the Eastern European immigrants who made the Lower East Side the world’s largest Jewish city in the early 1900's.

Along with guided tours of the Synagogue, the Eldridge Street Museum features new exhibits and programs, such as the Egg Rolls and Egg Creams Festival, the American Jewish Immigrant Experience in Song and Walking Tours of Sacred Sites on the Lower East Side (synagogues, churches and temples encompassing 200 years of religious life in New York City).

One of the many highlights of the day: I bought an Emma Goldman finger puppet from the Eldgridge Street Museum's Gift Shop for my girlfriend Liberte who is organizing Starbucks at Union Square East, right next to Union Square Park where Emma Goldman gave many of her historical speeches. The tag on the puppet even went into great detail of Emma Goldman's anarchism, stating that she was an "outspoken anarchist, feminist and advocate for birth control" who "struggled for the anarchist cause her whole life." It goes on to talk about her being deported back to Russian, becoming disillusioned with the Russian Revolution and later settling in the UK.

I'm always surprised at how many public murals depict Emma Goldman in the New York, even ones sponsored by the City such as the mosaics in the Chrostopher Street 1 station. It's like playing Where's Waldo with my favorite free-thinking, free-loving Jewish anarchist revolutionary.

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