December 15, 2016 – March 8, 2017
Postcards depict Jewish life in Europe and the United States at the turn of the 20th Century, and offer perspectives on the history of immigration in America At a time when immigration policy is front-page news, the Museum at Eldridge Street presents The Jewish Ghetto in Postcards: From Eastern Europe to the Lower East Side, an exhibition of early twentieth-century postcards drawn from the Blavatnik Archive, of the “Jewish Ghetto” on the Lower East Side and the shtetls of Eastern Europe.
These early twentieth-century postcards provide important historical perspective of the immigrant experience in America. In captivating color and stark black and white, they recall vanished places that are at the heart of the Jewish immigrant experience. They also suggest how cultural conceptions and types were disseminated in popular culture. The exhibition opens on Thursday, December 15 and remains on view through Wednesday, March 8, 2017.
“The Blavatnik Archive is proud to exhibit for the first time at the Museum at Eldridge Street a selection of its archival postcards highlighting the American Jewish immigrant experience of the early 1900s,” Mr. Blavatnik said. “Postcards, the visual social media of the early 20th century, provide a portal to the bustling life of an immigrant community in NYC, as experienced 100 years ago.”
From 1880 to 1924, one third of the Jewish population of Eastern Europe left for the United States fleeing persecution and seeking economic opportunity. Most settled on the Lower East Side making it the most crowded neighborhood in the world. On these shores, Jewish immigrants found themselves in a new kind of densely urban neighborhood. Still, echoes of the old country could be found in the cries of the marketplace, the plaintive tunes of the synagogue, and most of all in the shared Yiddish language of neighbors.
The Eldridge Street Synagogue—a magnificent National Historic Landmark built in 1887—is a fitting venue to present these postcards. It is the first synagogue built in America by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and is one of the most striking markers of that era. Once the center of the Jewish immigrant community, today the Synagogue is a part of a bustling Chinatown.
About the Exhibition
The Jewish Ghetto in Postcards features fifty postcard images, interpretive texts, oral histories, and a digital component that allows visitors to enlarge and examine the postcards and historic materials. The bulk of the exhibition features images of New York’s Lower East Side, long an immigrant gateway. Images of bustling streets with pushcarts and horse-drawn carriages, a pickle vendor, and a surprisingly beautiful view of tenements with laundry suspended from one tenement to the nextrecall a by-gone era.
The Lower East Side is described on both the front and back of postcards as “The Ghetto” or “Judea.” During the first decades of the 20th century, the term “the Ghetto” was understood as the place where the Jews lived in New York City. The postcards were collected in albums, sent as a memento from travels, or – as indicated by a message scrawled on one of the featured images – mailed by Progressive-era teachers and workers who wanted to show the atmosphere of the neighborhood where they worked.
The postcards of Eastern Europe depict men with long beards, wooden homes along unpaved streets, and other stereotypical scenes of the shtetl, with captions printed on the cards describing them as “Jewish Types” and the “Jewish Quarter.” Some of these images are snapshots taken by passing soldiers during World War I who were struck by the exotic looking community they encountered. Along with the exhibition, the Museum will present a rich calendar of cultural programs, including curator-led exhibition tours, walking tours of the Lower East Side, lectures and music that focus on the American Jewish immigrant experience.
The Museum will also offer educational programs for local school children, many of them recent immigrants. For a complete list of programs visit: blavatnikarchive.org/eldridge-street-exhibit.
About the Museum at Eldridge Street
The Museum at Eldridge Street, a non-sectarian cultural organization in Lower Manhattan, preserves and interprets the historic 1887 Eldridge Street Synagogue, a magnificent National Historic Landmark that has been meticulously restored. Exhibits, tours, cultural events and educational programs tell the story of Jewish immigrant life at the turn of the last century, explore architecture and historic preservation, inspire reflection on cultural continuity, and foster inter-group collaboration and exchange. To learn more visit: eldridgestreet.org.
About the Blavatnik Archive
The Blavatnik Archive Foundation is a non-profit foundation dedicated to the preservation and dissemination of primary resources that contribute to the study of 20th century Jewish and world history, with a special emphasis on WWI, WWII and the interwar period. The Archive’s holdings total approximately 90,000 physical and native digital assets, including archival postcards, photographs, letters, documents, and nearly 1,200 contemporary oral testimonies with Jewish veterans who fought in the Soviet armed forces and partisan units during WWII.
The Blavatnik Archive is committed to sharing its holdings as widely as possible for both research and public education. The Blavatnik Archive was founded in 2005 by American industrialist and philanthropist, Len Blavatnik. To learn more visit blavatnikarchive.org.
Hours and Admission
The Museum at Eldridge Street is open Sunday through Thursday from 10 am to 5 pm and Friday from 10 am to 3 pm. Admission is $14 adults; $10 students and seniors, $8 children 5- 17; free for children under 5 years of age. Mondays are Pay What You Wish. Entrance to the Jewish Ghetto in Postcards is included with Museum admission. For more information, visit eldridgestreet.org or call 212-219-0302. Please check the Museum’s website (eldridgestreet.org) for holiday closings including New Year’s Day.