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"Doing Jewish" in NYC: A Round-Up of Summer Possibilities

"Doing Jewish" in NYC: A Round-Up of Summer Possibilities

Unlike many New Yorkers, I don't ride "the jitney" to the Hamptons, crowd the Long Island Railroad in pursuit of the beach, or head over bridges and through tunnels to lakes, mountains, or "the country." Generally, I'm content to stay in New York City's concrete jungle during the dog days of August.

Although the sidewalks are steamy, there's always room to walk, and, more often than not, my destinations are uncrowded and cool. Within minutes of my arrival, I've cooled off so much that sometimes I even need a sweater. Recently, on two different occasions, I found myself in places where I could "do Jewish" -- or at least "see Jewish."

  • At the Jewish Museum, outfitted with an easy-to-operate audio guide, I took a leisurely stroll through Mel Bochner: Strong Language, which runs through September 21. As a neat-nick (but by no means an art aficionada), I thoroughly enjoyed his tidy, orderly, and brightly-colored words as art. As a writer, I appreciated the words themselves and the way they devolved as the artist progressed through the work - proper and polite in the upper left-hand corner, and, reading from left to right, top to bottom, totally vulgar, inappropriate, and downright nasty (and, in some cases, anti-Semitic) in the bottom right-hand corner. Among my favorite works in the exhibit was Yiddishism, a list of shtetl-speak nouns, some of which have made their way into English. Like many of his word lists, Yiddishism, ends with a comma, inviting viewers to continue what he began. Taking him up on that invitation, I would add these words to Bochner's kvetcher, nudnick, and pisher: shmegegge, shmendrick, and schmuck, Your turn. What words would you add to the list?
     
  • "I Live. Send Help." is running at the New-York Historical Society through September 21. The exhibit chronicles the history of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a foremost humanitarian organization that provides aid in times of need to people - Jews and non-Jews - throughout the world. A neatly arranged array of photographs, documents, objects, and videos tells the century-long story of "the Joint," which was created in 1914 by New Yorkers Jacob Schiff and Henry Morgenthau Sr. in response to the needs of Jews in Europe and Palestine at the beginning of World War I. Among JDC's many accomplishments was its role as a founding partner of the United Jewish Appeal in 1939, and its tireless efforts to resettle Jews following World War II, which resulted in the closing of most displaced persons camps by 1952. From Ethiopia to Sarajevo and from the Philippines to Tunisia, Argentina, India, and the Ukraine, the work of the JDC continues, providing supplies, support, and comfort to those affected by war, violence, hunger, natural disasters, and other harsh realities of our world.

Here are a few other places to "do Jewish" in New York City this summer:

  • Should August's weather make an outdoor stroll feasible, I'd love to take a walking tour of Williamsburg Brooklyn's Hasidic community led by Frieda Vizel, a fallen-away Hasid who has embraced 21st century life.
     
  • The Tenement Museum offers guided tours of the tenement's apartments - and insights into the lives of the people who occupied them - at 97 Orchard Street, a building that dates back to 1863.
     
  • At the Museum at Eldridge Street, visitors can see the extraordinary and meticulous restoration of the 1887 Eldridge Street Synagogue, the first building in America built by Ashkenazi Jews specifically as a synagogue, and today listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The museum's interactive exhibits dovetail well with those of the Tenement Museum, telling the story of the neighborhood's many immigrant communities during the 19th and 20th centuries.
     
  • Nu? What kind of post would this be if I didn't offer at least a few restaurant options? Dating back to 1888, Katz's Deli, site of the "I'll-have-what-she's-having" scene in When Harry Met Sally, is a New York institution that offers tremendous portions of traditional deli from pastrami and corned beef to knishes, kishka, and kugel. A carnivore's paradise, Sammy's Roumanian Steakhouse offers similarly sized portions of home-style steak, veal, and liver, along with sides that include kasha varnishkes, latkes, and mashed potatoes with greeven (fried chicken fat and onions) and schmaltz (chicken fat). Even if you overdo it, leave a little room for an egg cream for dessert! Looking for just a nosh? Check out Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery or Moishe's Bake Shop. If you'd rather do Chinese, Golden Unicorn offers terrific dim sum, and if you're in the mood to do Italian, Pellegrino's Ristorante is, according to Zagat's, one of Little Italy's finest.

How do you "do Jewish" where you live?

Jane E. Herman , a.k.a. JanetheWriter, is the senior writer and editor at the Union for Reform Judaism. A graduate of Lafayette College in Easton, PA, she holds a master's degree in public administration from the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College, part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system. She grew up at Temple Emanu-El in Edison, NJ, and now belongs to Temple Shaaray Tefila in New York City. A proud New Yorker, she loves books, fountain pens, social media, Words with Friends, mah jongg, and all things Jewish. She blogs at JanetheWriter Writes.

Jane E. Herman

Published: 7/31/2014

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