the (still) jewish lower east side

June 27, 2007

I’m going to have to do this in pieces, I think.

The Educational Alliance
Last Thursday I went down to the Educational Alliance on East Broadway. It’s down the block from the old Garden Cafeteria, part community center, part elders home. It was founded by the first generation of Jewish immigrants, the German wave, as part philanthropy, partly a means to assimilate their Eastern European followers. Shalom Aleichem met Mark Twain here.

I arrived in time for the seniors’ luncheon, pretty much to the confusion of everyone. And here an explanation is warranted. You should know that this project is not as interesting to anyone as it is to me, for whatever reason, this whole thing is fascinating to me because of summer academic withdrawal or whatever boring job I’m compensating for at the moment. And I’m slowly getting over the expectation that anyone I babble on to about it is going to do much more than smile and nod (on good days, I restrain myself entirely). So, in any case, I didn’t totally realize what had happened until I was burning the recording I’d taken to disc later on at the radio station. I had the minidisc playing through the board and in that first minute or so of tape you can hear me ask this question about the Garden with a tone that gives away I’m not sure anyone’s going to actually know what I’m talking about, and then slowly, you can hear the whole table start chattering. The garden. She wants to know about the garden, on east broadway.

So, clearly, if you’re 80, this stuff is fascinating.

Most of what they remembered was pretty fuzzy, but there were pieces in there that were pretty fascinating, a much more vivid picture of these places and characters I’ve been piecing together. Pieces that could have been just composits of characters, or made up all together, like half of this could be.

At this point, I’m the one correcting the Lower East Sider’s on their old haunt….’What was his name, Tolstoy? Tolstoy?

Trotsky?

‘Right, he used to stop by. He was writing for the newspaper upstairs [or the Foward next door].’

(This stuff really is coming from somewhere)

They brought up the son-in-law, Bert Feinberg, the first person that I talked to, with great disapproval. The son-in-law was a gambler. He’s the reason the place went downhill, gambled it all away.

They told me I had to go Gertel’s. By tomorrow, it’s gonna be gone.

So I went by, after we’d talked for a while, and after I’d talked for a while longer with Harold, the amateur historian, who pulled me aside on the way out and spent another quarter hour or so describing the whole Lower East Side back when he was growing up.

Gertel’s is moving to Brooklyn. I walked by these two reminiscing on when you would come back to the Lower East Side to buy your underwear and socks.

Then, walking back to the subway, I had the idea walking by here to try one more shot at the Garden, and poked in to this Judaica shop that’s crammed so full you can only just squeeze through the aisle.

“And that’s how I met Steven Spielberg”
The shop clerk was telling two very impressed older women how this place has been in movies! You know Crossing Delancey? And who was that little guy? Woody Allen!

He remembered the Garden, like everyone does, just as something that was there. He called up his 80 year old clerk to ask if he remembered anything at all, but he only said I needed to find a real old-timer, before his days.

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