Sunday morning the parents and I woke up, looked outside at the dismal and rainy weather, and decided to brave the great outdoors in order to take the Big Onion’s tour of the Jewish Lower East Side. The tours are led by history doctoral candidates at Columbia. Our tour guide was a native New Yorker who is writing her dissertation on public health issues of the turn of the century, and her personal interests definitely became evident in the meandering tangents she’d take in regards to listing the problems with milk available in the Lower East Side, or the unsanitary nature of the streets.
The rain had stopped for a spell when we trekked down to the Lower East Side for our tour, and we spent the first half of the tour with clouds but not-rain. We saw an old Ashkenazic synagogue, built in an old church, that is now abandoned, as most of the Jews from the Lower East Side have left. We also saw old tenement houses and the former headquarters of the Yiddish Forward, a newspaper (still in publication) that was read by the Jewish community in American in the early 1900s.
Then, it started raining. And raining, And it rained harder. And the tour continued, and even though interesting things were happening it was a lot of standing in one place listening to our guide talk for extended periods of time rather than seeing lots of sights and getting stories along the way. Anyhow, other than the rain it was a perfectly enjoyable experience and I feel further enlightened regarding my cultural heritage, etc.
The tour ended on a little street in Chinatown at the Eldridge Street Synagogue, the first free-standing (not built in a church) Ashkenazic Synagogue in the Lower East Side. It was built in the late 1800s and has been used ever since, though the main sanctuary fell into extreme disrepair in the middle of the 1900s. The main part of the building has since undergone a twenty million dollar renovation, so it looks really beautiful. The building is now both a functional synagogue and a museum. Evidently the main sanctuary had leaks and holes in the wall and all sorts of issues, but the Torahs–which had been left in the ark unpreserved and unprotected–were in mint condition. Amazing, no?
The rain was still pouring when we left the synagogue, so we caught a cab to SoHo rather than walking. We went to Grandaisy, formerly Sullivan Street Bakery, and I introduced my parents to the wonders of pizza bianca and pizza patate. By the time we finished eating the rain had ceased (yay!) and we spent the next few hours shopping around SoHo, buying some fun clothes and wandering slack-jawed through the oddity that is Evolution, a store that sells, among other things, human skulls and taxidermy-ed animals. Around 6:00 we headed back uptown to clean up for dinner and to eat the mini-cupcakes my father had picked up at Baked By Melissa, also in SoHo.