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Magical Moments Courtesy of the LOWER EAST SIDE

Posted: Oct 24, 2012 | 10:57 PM
by Jared Goldstein
I define magical moments when a tour of a neighborhood
transforms into the hospitality of a village, a really passionate host, a real character, someone sharing.
 
I've had many of these in Harlem, but I have been doing many Lower East Side tours lately, and I have had a delightful spate of them.
 
This actually happens a lot when you go to the Suffolk Street Community Garden:  Doris the founder comes in and talks with you.  I had a group from a Philadelphia area Jewish group in the garden, and Doris spoke about how she and her neighbors founded the garden, how they keep an eye on it, and then how Bette Middler funded its further improvement.
 
On the way out, we saw Kenny Scharff spray painting a mural.
 
Three different marvelous synagogues had a caretaker invite us in and turn on the gorgeous lights. 

The Bialystoker synagogue, the Angel Orensanz Foundation's Ansche Chesed, and another synagogue that is quite
impressively restored, one of the largest in the world. 
 
In the case of the latter, I worked at a housing organization with
the synagogue's caretaker.  He told us how, as a child, his father was the caretaker and they struggled against the elements and vandals.  He continues working there. 

So, we were pretty much alone in there.  As many of you know, I am wont to recite the Statue of Liberty Poem, Emma
Lazarus' "The New Colossus."  An immigrant poem in an immigrant temple, one that is not associated with the old country but is 'ecumenical,' embracing Jews as Jews in America as Americans, not a town like Bialystok.

So that is what I did there.  I belted out the poem with the echoes filling the place.  It was quite an experience.  Unique.

Then there was the time that I was speaking about the streetcarts when Jeffrey, carting supplies, shares with the group that he was the last streetcarter.
 
We also got to go to a major bank by McKim, Mead and White, which is now a high end catering hall, where the lights were on some sort of a colored-lights rhythm.
 
Then there is the old family discount candy store that gave us halvah.
 
Then, after not seeing him for years, I saw architect Paul Castrucci twice in two days.  I worked with him for years at the first housing organization I worked at, one that helps residents take over abandoned housing.  Paul was one of a team of idealistic architects who provided affordable and high quality architectural services so that once dilapidated buildings work well, environmentally, and look great. 

I loved paling around with the architects.  Javier Minchalla got me into Louis Kahn.  I'm still friends with Micheal Mullin. 

This magic moment with a local 'squatter's architect' worked out because the first time I was talking about tenants taking over their abandoned buildings and how my first job's organization helped them, and along comes Paul the architect. 
 
This was especially sweet, since I was with this family for the
fourth time in around four years, regulars!  They come in for my tours with their visiting relatives.  We saw Harlem, Greenwich Village, and now the Lower East Side.
 
The second day I was showing guests ABC NoRio, a punk artists'
cooperative that has gorgeous renovation plans with some dramatic environmental green features; Paul is the architect for that one, and there he was at that moment.
 
Moments later, we are by the Matzoh factory, which looked closed, but the master bakers were in there chopping the 6 square feet sheets of Matzohs by tapping them perfectly.  Through the window, they gave us hot matzohs fresh from the oven.
 
Shortly after that, we got the courage up to go into what looked like a random alley to find the retro-hipster nightclub that was once Meyer Lansky's Speakeasy.  At the end of the tour we enjoyed a stroll through Freeman's Alley.
 
And then there's the artist on Forsyth Street who heard my
presentation about old Jewish Lower East Side on that street.  She squatted there in the late 1960s and bought the building, a mid 19th Century stable, in the 1970s.  She invited us in to look at her Chinatown influenced sculptures.
 
That's about fourteen magical moments.  Thank you Lower East Side!

I love bringing voyagers on Lower East Side Tours, land of my ancestors.

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