Egg Rolls and Egg Creams Redux

 

Image by Kenneth Chen

 

I knew we were in the right place when I saw the shul down the street from the Chinese Opera. A traditional Chinese band was playing, as the Klezmer band waited in the wings.  Despite the fact that it was hot and crowded and overwhelming, everyone seemed happily at home at the Egg Cream Egg Roll Festival. Sponsored by the Museum At Eldridge Street, the place was packed with every walk of life laughing, sharing, crafting, and enjoying, myself included.

Image by Kenneth Chen

 

The food was simple and witty; kosher egg rolls, egg creams, fortune cookies with yiddish fortunes, and black an white cookies that summed up the yin and the yang of the entire event.  This was the 10th anniversary for the festival, and its leaders were excited to talk about it.  Bonnie Diamond, Executive Director of the Museum at Eldridge Street and Hanna Griff-Sleven, Program Director  of Museum At Eldridge Street and founder of the festival spoke with me.  When asked how she came up with the idea, she laughed,

Image by Kenneth Chen

 

“Well, it’s just a walk in the neighborhood. Originally I was a Program Officer at The State Arts Council and they were applying for money for a neighborhood festival. And it was a Jewish festival so I said, ‘oh that seems like half the story, maybe we should work with the Chinese.’ So after a little nudge, they did, and it was a natural because most of everyone comes right from the neighborhood and its been a great way to build with the merchants and residents in the neighborhood.”

“The shul was built in 1887.  It’s name is the Museum at Eldridge Street and it was the first great house of worship built buy Eastern European Jews that started as a synagogue. There were certain storefront ones.  There were synagogues that used to be churches. But this was the first big one built by Eastern European Jews. t still has services here and there is still a congregation. It fell into disrepair for a while, and the Eldridge Street project came in in the eighties, and made an agreement with the synagogue and they

Image by Kenneth Chen

 

said, ‘We’ll fix it up’.  After twenty years and a nearly twenty million dollar restoration it’s this beautiful space.” 

I have often heard comparisons and shared respect between the Chinese and Jewish cultures.  Both are steeped in learning, with an emphasis on books and education.  But the metaphor for this similarity, this parity really came alive today watching the busy, vibrant festival in Chinatown, with one of the oldest shuls in New York at its center.  All in all, a terrific idea came together beautifully, merging cultures and palates.  Well worth the trip.  

All images courtesy of Kenneth Chen

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