In this month’s edition of MEET THE TENEMENT MUSEUM STAFF, we profile an individual who has the crucial job of helping to raise the museum’s role as a thought leader on immigration. Dr. Rachel Feinmark is our Strategic Communications Manager and ACLS Public Fellow. Find out more about Rachel and her job below.
TM: What is your title?
RF: Manager of Strategic Communications and ACLS Public Fellow
TM: What are your job responsibilities?
RF: I work on a variety of special projects for development and communications with the goal of cementing the Museum’s position as a thought leader on immigration.
TM: Where did you work before coming to The Tenement Museum?
RF: Before coming to the Tenement Museum, I was working on my PhD (a full time job in itself!), but also teaching freshman writing, museum studies, and human rights at the University of Chicago and putting in extra hours doing remote data-entry for an independent bookstore in Baltimore.
TM: Most interesting story related to your job since starting here?
RF: One of the most interesting things for me has been the variety of groups I’ve spoken to who were interested in the Museum and what we do, ranging from the more obvious – historians and museum professionals – to the slightly more eccentric – elderly amateur genealogists and Catholic school principals.
TM: What is your family’s immigrant history?
RF: My great grandparents came from small towns across Russia and Poland (the kind of towns that were in Russia one day and Poland the next!), with the exception of my mother’s grandmother, who was inordinately proud of being from Austria (or so family lore says). Both sides of my father’s family settled in New Haven, Connecticut, and my mother’s family moved to the Lower East Side. Because I never met any of my great grandparents, I learned very little about their lives and their journeys as immigrants. My dad was quite close with his grandmothers, though, and prides himself on still cooking like a little old lady from the shtetl. He renders his own chicken fat, makes gefilte fish from scratch, measures ingredients for honey cake with old yahrzeit candle glasses, and shops Chinatown butcher shops for special ingredients for his chicken soup.
TM: Where did you grow up?
RF: A tiny town in northern NJ.
TM: What do you like doing in your free time?
RF: I used to enjoy reading, cooking elaborate meals, and watching some terrible TV, but these days, most of my free time is devoted to playing with wooden trains and reading Frog and Toad. I’m still trying to finish up some journal articles from grad school on the weekends, but that only rarely qualifies as something I really “like doing.”
TM: What have you learned since starting at the museum?
RF: The nicest thing I’ve learned is just how passionate people are about American history, and about the stories of their own family’s past. I think, at least in some professional history circles, people tend to forget that a lot of historical work is meaningless without an audience, and so it’s encouraging to see so many visitors come in each day excited and ready to ask questions.
TM: Favorite Tenement Museum tour and why?
RF: Well, I lead Hard Times, so I’m a bit biased. But I do love the Baldizzi apartment – my grandmother often told me of her childhood in a fifth story cold water flat on the Lower East Side, and though she lived down here a few years before the Baldizzi apartment is set, I still feel like I can imagine her there (or, more likely for her, out in the streets handing out leaflets for Norman Thomas, while her mother was calling out the window looking for her). On the other hand, my first date with my now-husband was on a Meet Victoria tour years ago (fun fact!), and so Victoria will always hold a special place in my heart.
TM: Favorite place to go in the Lower East Side?
RF: Kossar’s. I find it a little disappointing after the recent redo (sundried tomato bialys with hummus? Really?), but it’s just another part of the LES that reminds me of my grandma. We used to have to come to the Lower East Side from NJ to get her bialys when Kossar’s was barely a storefront, and bring them down to her in Maryland. She always had a freezer full, and she would eat them every morning, one half at a time.
- Post by Jonathan Pace, Communications Manager at the Tenement Museum