HOLIDAY GIFTING MADE EASY: Tenement Museum Gift Guide Holiday 2015

1. For the Nosher

Maybe you have someone on your list who is always feeding others… or maybe you have someone on your list who is always feeding themselves. Everyone knows a nosher, and we’ve got their perfect gifts right here.


Bagel tray

Gift this bagel tray to someone who needs it. Perfect for balancing Sunday morning bagels and shmeer or Friday night Chinese take-away, this 6.5″ x 14″ melamine tray is exactly the thing for the snacker in your life.-$14.99



Wine Bottle Stopper

Perhaps this Chrysler building bottle stopper is the show stopper for your urbane recipient. For some folks, a bottle of fine wine is enough of a holiday treat, but why not top it off with this timeless, proper stopper? - $19.99


2. For the New Yorkers

New Yorkers come in all shapes and sizes, and perhaps the only thing they have in common is that they are hard to please. In fact, the myriad tribes of New York are one of the many joys of living here, and we’ve got something for everyone.

For the Brooklynite

Everyone’s got one – a Brookylnite that is. The borough has always meant a lot of different things to different people. Today, it also means taste. Whether they live in Pittsburg, or Tallahassee, or somewhere in Brooklyn-proper, farm-to-table craft beer enthusiasts with a penchant for fancy coffee can be found on everyone’s holiday list. Give them this Brownstone everyday tote bag. Perfect for trips to the farmer’s market, supermarket, or perhaps the stock market.  -$19.99



The Sophisticate

It was once thought that truly “sophisticated” New Yorkers only lived uptown – and then there was everyone else.  But today we know better. New York-style sophisticates live in Chinatown, Elmhurst, just off the Grand Concourse, and in Kansas City. Treat the classiest folks on your list to this lovely stationary by French artist Martine Rupert. Rupert’s stationary renders Manhattan elegantly in India ink and collage, speaking to those with discerning sensibilities. -$15.95


The Wise Guy

One of the most quintessential of all New York characters is the Wise Guy. Not always a guy, this New York fixture gives it out as good as she takes it. Send this NYC trivia game to the person on your list who knows everything. This pack includes cards, score keeping materials, and a whole lot of payback. – $19.95

3.       For the Next Generation

Turn off the television, power off the iPad, and open up to some creativity. Give the little one on your list these gifts that don’t require electricity.

Let’s Make Some Great Art

For children 8 years and older, gift this art activity book. Filled with great ideas, this book opens the door to even more fun. -$19.95


Bashful Reindeer

This plush reindeer is just looking for a naptime companion and a partner in crime. What could be better than a newcomer from Lapland just in time for the holiday season? This bashful reindeer is nondenominational. -$21.99


Dear New York, I love You

Some people become New Yorkers, others are born New Yorkers. Get this I Love New York onesie for the little one you know is destined for all the delicious food, wild traffic, and serious street credentials that comes with being a lifetime New Yorker. -$24.99


Lil’ Mib

Lil MIB is Lo-Fi fun for the folks on your list who grew up on pocket computers. Lil MIB is a precious little ‘bot who does only four things and none of them is surf the web. MIB records a message, distorts it (if you’d like) and plays it back to you or, if you raise the message flag, to a recipient of your choice. Handmade in Brooklyn. – $68.00

4. From Your Pet


Catmus Carols AND Jewish Songs for Cats

Of course they are part of the family, but they haven’t totally mastered the MasterCard yet. If you are going to do a little purchasing on behalf of your pets this holiday season, try these funny twists on holiday classics. Catmus Carols are traditional Christmas carols sung from the perspective of your favorite feline and Jewish Songs for Cats takes the same concept and curls a tale around it for traditional Jewish songs.  - $9.95 each


Worst Gift Ever Socks

But how good are animals at giving gifts? Does your chocolate lab have good taste? Of course not! Sparky might pick out a pretty bad gift – maybe even these “Worst Gift Ever” socks. These socks in men’s sizes are just the thing to come from a creature who loves you for what’s on the inside… or what you feed him. -$14.99

5. For Full-on Nostalgia-sufferer 

Here at the Tenement Museum you’d think we’d be free of this particular bug – the bug of nostalgia that is… We have a team of people who love learning about the past, but we are also here to inform the public about some of the challenges of living in New York before modern plumbing. We know all too well about people who are wistful for days gone by, and we’ve picked out a few gifts for those folks on your list.

 NY Transit Token Necklace

Everyone knows someone who loves to remember the good old, bad old days. We call that golden age thinking and we’ve got just the thing. This New York transit token necklace harkens back to another era in the history of New York (before Uber).  -$40.00

Sunday Football Socks

For another nostalgic loved one, pick up a pair of these men’s Sunday football socks. The retro look of these socks will take the wearer and the gifter to a simpler time in football’s history. -$14.99

Magnifying Glass Necklace

Gift a closer look for the friend who is always looking back. For the reader of historical fiction, for the Ken Burns aficionado, for the companion who always reminds you about pre-modern plumbing, this magnifying glass is the perfect gift. On a lovely long chain, this magnifying loop necklace says I know this will look gracious with your pinafore-inspired dress. -$28.00

6. The Planner

You know them. They may not have brought the most laughs to the party, but they organized it! Get something special for that person in your life who made sure you didn’t miss your dentist appointment, your anniversary, or your dad’s birthday.

New York 2016 Wall Calendar

This 2016 calendar will keep someone you care about up to date next year, but the beautiful vintage-inspired prints are totally timeless. -$21.95

Tenement Museum 2016 Desk Calendar

Help someone special keep track of major events and daily appointments with the Tenement Museum calendar. Visit a new Lower East Side scene every month; time flies when you are looking back at the neighborhood’s past.-$14.99

 Big Apple Mini Sticky Note

Even the most organized person sometimes needs to jot a note.  You could gift these to the students on your list, a bride to be, or anyone with several things on the brain. This sweet packet of NYC-themed sticky notes brings a hint of vacation to the more mundane of tasks… “RENT CHECK!” -$5.99

8. For Your Auntie, Titi, Tanti, Abuela, Noni, Nana, Bubie, Oma, Halmuni

You know she has been planning your holiday gift all year, so it is high time to stockpile a few special things to honor that woman in your life who is always bringing you cheer. Maybe she’s really your auntie or maybe not – it hardly matters when it comes time to say Happy Holidays!

Multi Colored Square Beaded Bracelet

Even those in traditional New York black need a little punctuation. This beaded bracelet provides some seriously low-key style. Give a special lady this elastic banded bracelet; comprised of multicolored glass beads, it provides the perfect pizzazz. -$14.99

Boutique Coin Purse

Not so long ago, a cup of coffee cost 10 cents in New York City. Now you are lucky if you can get one for $2.  Still, saving your pennies can get you somewhere even if that somewhere might just be a candy bar. Gift this coin purse to someone who remembers the value of small change. -$9.99

Oy Vey Sticky Notes

Everyone has an Oy Vey moment. Make remembering the little things a little more fun when you give someone these Oy Vey sticky notes.  Never has a trip to the grocery store been so expressive. -$4.99

There’s is so much more to see and gift on the online shop – open 24 hours a day!

Delancey: Deal or No Deal?

The Storefront for SIDNEY'S UNDERGARMENT at 97 Orchard Street

The time is upon us once again to embark on those treacherous missions all over town to wait in never-ending lines to ensure we find those ‘perfect gifts’ for the ones we love. Or is it?

For many people, holiday shopping has been a leading cause of stress during the months of October to December.   Battling for bargains and scoring ‘sale’ items is not specific to the Holiday season, and it’s no task for the weary. Generations of immigrants here in New York City have mastered this art form right here on the front lines of the Lower East Side.

Flash back to the mid-19th century when single-family homes were superseded by multi-family tenements. Immigrants began to flood the streets, and so did their trades, products, and specialties. The ability to immigrate to America, speak no English, and open your own business inspired still more hopeful arrivals. This influx of immigrants to New York City, more specifically the Lower East Side, sparked unprecedented demand for supplies and amenities to keep the city’s workforce clothed, fed, and able to survive in this strange new land.

Merchants began to sell their goods out of baskets, which evolved to pushcarts. Pushcarts dominated the streets of the Lower East Side until they were outlawed in the 1930s, but this was not the end of retail on the Lower East Side. Markets opened by Mayor LaGuardia provided a haven for a few lucky pushcart vendors exiled from the streets.  Throughout the neighborhood’s history, vendors with means had opened basement shops in the tenements themselves.


The shops on Orchard Street

But the neighborhood continued to grow. More immigrants brought more demand, and more potential for success. Max Feinberg, a local business man, purchased 86 Orchard Street in 1928 and began participating in a retail tradition still in evidence today. Feinberg provided ready-to-wear children’s clothing, and sold them at wholesale prices on the ground floor of his building, while holding his office on the 2nd floor and storage on the 3rd. This practice became increasingly prominent in the neighborhood as these family businesses grew.

Many immigrant-owned shops were successful in the neighborhood and have been passed down within families for generations.  A mutual understanding and respect between merchants formed a balance between their short-term interests with the long-term interests of the entire neighborhood, creating harmony that kept competition between vendors in check. New Yorkers flocked to the Lower East Side, knowing that their haggling skills could get them the best prices in the city for all of their family’s needs.

In the 1930s, as residents started moving out of the tenements, these shopkeepers remained, keeping Orchard Street and the Lower East Side vibrant with visitors to the neighborhood. The storefronts remained vital, keeping the neighborhood’s streetscape and the buildings alive.

Flash back to the present.  The Lower East Side is not the bustling bargain-hunting battlefield it once was, but independent boutiques are sprouting up on every other block, catering to new customers who are coming to shop in the neighborhood. Family-owned businesses that once ruled the neighborhood continue to line the sidewalks of Orchard Street (the city offers a trip down memory lane every Sunday, as it blocks off the street to cars, and opens it up to deal-seeking shoppers).

Even as the neighborhood continues to change, shoppers themselves are changing the way they purchase goods; while some prefer to frequent stores that can solve all of their shopping needs under one roof, others watch their shopping carts fill up as they ‘click’ the day away.  But for those shoppers who prefer a more intimate shopping experience, the Lower East Side is still a shopper’s paradise, changing with the times while somehow still staying the same.

-          Ryan Jensen,  Evenings Events Coordinator at The Lower East Side Tenement Museum

A Backstage Pass to Deaf West’s Production of Spring Awakening

A production of Spring Awakening which incorporates American Sign Language into the the performance is reaching all Broadway audiences .

I’m a huge fan of Broadway. Even before I started living in New York City, my favorite thing to do was going to see a Broadway show. I’ve been seeing a lot of plays coming back as revivals that I saw while I was in college. For some of those productions, I don’t feel that a revival is necessary. However, when I heard Spring Awakening was returning, I was thrilled. I have been hearing about this production since it started out in Los Angeles. This production is unique because the entire show is understandable to both hearing and Deaf members of the audience. I knew I had to see this revival when it came to Broadway not only because of the work that I do as the Education Associate for Access at the Tenement Museum but also because my colleague Alexandria Wailes is part of the production. Alexandria is our educator who is Deaf. About once every other month she leads a tour at the Tenement Museum in American Sign Language only. She was also involved with Deaf West’s production of Spring Awakening in Los Angeles and is involved with its current run on Broadway as an associate choreographer. Additionally, for a handful of performances Alexandria is going on as Marlee Matlin’s understudy. I went to see Alexandria and the rest cast of Spring Awakening last Tuesday and I couldn’t have had a better time.

The production seamlessly incorporates actors of all abilities while creating an extremely moving performance. There were lines and situations that I had heard in the original production that had not made an impact on me. For example, when Wendela, played by Sandra Mae Frank (who signs the part) and Katie Boeck (who speaks and sings it), performed the line: “It seems to me what serves each of us best is what serves all of us best,” I gasped and practically started to cry. That, to me, is the whole powerful and crucial message of the way this show is being done and it was always a part of the script. I was in awe.

Alexandria giving a tour in American Sign Language at the Tenement Museum.

Another exhilarating part of this experience for me was getting to see a colleague shine on a different kind of stage. Alexandria Wailes is a powerhouse when she leads tours at the Tenement Museum. Many visitors repeatedly come to the Museum to see her tell our stories. Her presence on stage was just as powerful and engaging. Earlier in the week I was able to chat with Alexandria about her involvement in this production:

Ellysheva Zeira: How did you first get involved with this production of Spring Awakening?

Alexandria Wailes: Michael Arden and I have been friends/colleagues since Deaf West’s BIG RIVER at Roundabout’s American Airlines theatre. We also did an LA production of PIPPIN. It was a given that we would always seek opportunities to work together again. When Spring Awakening came about, Michael asked me for my availability to be part of the workshop, as part of the creative team, two summers ago. I couldn’t due to commitments here in NY.
However, when the opportunity to do a production in the 99 seat venue at Inner City Arts arose, we worked out arrangements to fly me out and be involved for the last five weeks leading to opening.

They had already met and worked for about a month and half before my arrival.
The rest is history. In a nutshell, we went from a 99 seat venue in downtown LA to an upscale state of the art theatre in Beverly Hills to Broadway all within the span of a year. This is unheard of.

EZ: What has been your favorite part of the experience so far?

AW: My favorite part of this experience is tri-fold. The creative process itself leading up to opening, working with a cast with tremendous spirit of generosity, creativity, compassion and talent and being able to share this work in three different venues on two coasts!

EZ: What is it like for you to be on a Broadway stage?

AW: Being on Broadway is being home.

Tenement Education Alexandria Wailes's understudy sheet for one night's performance of Spring Awakening.

EZ: Do you find any similarities between giving a tour at the Tenement Museum and your role in Spring Awakening?

AW: The similarities between tour presenting and Broadway performances (or any other performance for that matter) is the live experience. There are always variables arising from night to night. Different audience energies, a microphone goes out, a guitar string breaks, etc. It is amazing how the company comes together to get through the shows. An ensemble in the best sense.

EZ: What kind of impact do you hope/think this show will have in the Broadway community? Do you think its impact will extend beyond Broadway?

AW: The show has already made a lot of noise and shook up people’s preconceived ideas about deafness, ASL, deaf culture and how theatre can be presented. There are talks of a nationwide/international tour. Even if we go to another country presenting this production in ASL, there will likely be supertitles with the language of that country affixed to the proscenium of the stage for audiences.

Spring Awakening is about self-discovery, awareness and the degrees of communications and how people desire to be understood- mentally, spiritually, emotionally and or physically. I believe that for this particular production, in the last two years, we upped that notion and raised the bar by thickening the ‘sauce’ with some relevant Deaf history content that underscores the entire experience of Spring Awakening.

Frank Wedekind penned this play in 1891. Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik created the musical version about ten years ago. We created ours in 2014. Some light background info on what was happening in the world when Wedekind penned this creates interesting connections (however I strongly doubt that he was responding to the following). The Second International Congress on Education of the Deaf (known as the Milan Conference) of 1880 changed lives of Deaf/ deaf people all over the world. Alexander Graham Bell had a part in this. It marked the start of the ‘Dark Ages’ for the Deaf community. The biggest change was the notion that all deaf people had to learn speech/lip-reading and not sign (in fact they were prohibited from signing) in order to be considered ‘equal’ to their hearing peers. Otherwise, one was deemed an oral failure and marginalized in life. This created segregation within the community between those who could not ‘speak’ clearly and those who could. We are slowly emerging out of that, but it is not without a constant fight.

EZ: That background becomes an essential part of the world of the play and I was amazed at how seamlessly that history fit into the narrative at hand. To me, it made the story that much more powerful and relevant. It was almost like he did write it with that history in mind!

Spring Awakening is playing at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre from now until January 24th and it will not be extended. Do not miss your chance to see this brilliant and inclusive show. Visit for more details. You can also enter a lottery for $35 tickets which is drawn 90 minutes before show time in both English and ASL, with support from the place where I take ASL class, The Sign Language Center.

–Posted by, Ellysheva Zeira, Education Associate for Access

At Home in the East Village: Veselka Serves up Ukrainian Fare

Veselka at it was, a newsstand and lunch counter and so much more.

The moral of this story is: you never know where the next fraternity party is going to take you. The moral of this story is also: never underestimate the power of good home cooking – even if the home isn’t yours.

There are plenty of restaurants in New York City that claim to be the original of something or the most authentic. When considering the many Lower East Side restaurants in the running, Veselka wouldn’t be everyones best guess. For starters, Veselka is run by a man named Tom Birchard. How authentic can a Ukrainian landmark be if it is run by a guy from New Jersey with Pennsylvania Dutch heritage? Well it’s kind of a funny story. When he was at college at Rutgers University, Tom went to a fraternity party. We can safely assume that Tom hoped to meet a pretty girl. Well he did, and he married her.  What Tom probably didn’t expect is that when he married her, he married Ukraine. The young woman was the daughter of Wolodymyr Darmochwal, who had moved to the United States after being displaced from Ukraine when Soviet powers took over the country after World War II.

Veselka's welcoming borscht. Photograph courtesy of Veselka.

Darmochwal had quite the trying tale of his own before settling down in the United States. He lived in a displaced persons camp in Germany before settling in New Jersey and opening a special little corner store on the intersection of Second Avenue and East 9th Street. At first, Veselka was a combination of a newsstand, a tiny lunch counter, and an impromptu community center.  The hearty and traditional Ukrainian food hit the spot, and Veselka began to expand into the 24-hour New York institution it is today- thanks in large part to Birchard. Birchard began working for his father-in-law in 1967, a relationship that lasted longer than his marriage. Though the marriage ended, Birchard’s ties to the Ukrainian community only deepened.  Birchard is now the owner of the thriving restaurant and over the decades he has successfully navigated through the neighborhood’s many transitions. In a neighborhood as marked by change as the East Village, this perseverance is quite a feat.

While some New York institutions gain their reputation from being exclusive, Veselka’s trick always seems to have been – and continues to be-  inclusion. During the height of East Village counter-culture, Veselka dished out honest servings of hearty Ukrainian fare to any and all comers.  Penny Arcade, a performance artist and an East Village fixture herself, recently told Julia Moskin of The New York Times, “It had the Village Voice before anywhere else, a row of phone booths, smokes for a dime, and cheap good food that never changed.” Moskin even reports that Darmochawl put up with an anarchist who squirted breast milk at him when he protested her breastfeeding at the table (that debate continues as well).

Delicious Ukrainian classics from the Veselka kitchen. Photograph courtesy of Veselka.

Birchard has continued to celebrate the artists’ among the rest of the East Village community as well as the expatriated Ukrainian community. Ukraine, like other territories in Eastern Europe, experienced vast political upheaval during the Ttwentieth century. Prior to World War II, Jewish communities fled religious oppression; after the war Ukrainians of all kinds fled political oppression.  For a time the East Village had one of the biggest Ukrainian populations outside of the country. Eventually immigration slowed during the late Soviet period. Today, young people arrive at Veselka everyday looking for work at a restaurant that some claim is famous all across Ukraine. You can bet that alongside the few kale salads and salmon poached eggs are deeply traditional varenyky or dumplings, stuffed cabbage, borsht, kielbasa… all made by Ukrainian chefs and largely served by Ukrainian waiters.

So stop into Veselka, still on the corner of East 9th Street and Second Avenue. We’re sure you’ll feel at home.


–Posted by Julia Berick, Marketing and Communications Coordinator

The Voyage Out: Revisiting Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn

The other golden arches. The Brooklyn Bridge. Photograph courtesy of the New York Public Library.

As sharpened pencils and scarves replace popsicles and beach towels, you know it’s time for a book report!

This fall I picked up a copy of Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn. Tóibín  visited the museum to discuss Brooklyn when it was released, in 2009. The total good-book-joy of reading this novel is in no way undermined by how shockingly sad it can be. Just keep some tissues on hand… the history of Irish immigration to America hasn’t always been sunny. The emotional peaks and valleys are stitched convincingly together by the depth of Tóibín’s context. I am hardly the first to note that Brooklyn is a lovingly nuanced re-imagining of Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady.  Tóibín’s pages are heavy with empathy from perhaps his own experience as an Irishman in the United States. Continue reading

“On Tenement Roofs Illuminated”: The Poetry Project’s Inspiring History

Bohemian wonderland: Walter Silver's photographs of 1950s Beat Culture capture the spirit of the downtown freewheelin' creative culture manifest in poetry readings and performances at Cafe Wha? and others. Readings of the so-called "beatnik" culture were one of the predecessors to the Poetry Project. Photo courtesy of the NYPL.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Manhattan, specifically the Lower East Side, was a haven for creative types. Rent on the Lower East Side was relatively cheap (just consult your most convenient Patti Smith memoir to see how cheap). Painters, musicians, and writers lived and worked together. Sure it sounds like a fairy tale, but also it’s true. Continue reading

Tenement Museum President Morris Vogel Honors the Hart-Celler Act

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The Hart-Celler Immigration and Nationality Act: 50 Years Later

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Tradition (and Individual Talent): How the Stories of the Shtetl became a Broadway Sensation

Zero Mostel and the original Broadway cast. Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library.

One of the best-loved musicals of all time returns to Broadway this fall, with fanfare, glossy print advertisements, and plenty of press. When the curtain rises on this new production of Fiddler on the Roof however, that Broadway sparkle will give way to something a little less glamorous: the shtetl. Continue reading

Honoring Adam Purple: a Tenement Staffer Remembers a Community Activist


Adam Purple in action. Photograph courtesy of Harvey Wang.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw Adam Purple.  His long, white flowing beard moving across his chest rhythmically while he rollerbladed, if my memory is right, up the Williamsburg Bridge.  It was about ten years ago, and I was riding my bike from Greenpoint, Brooklyn to go to a Food Not Bombs meeting at ABC No Rio on Rivington Street in the Lower East Side.  I would see him occasionally after that on a bike, but never standing still. Continue reading