(212) 374-4100
See where the American dream began
and is still alive and well!

You Were There

Three Great Gals Bring Chanukah Festivity to the Lower East Side 

Posted: Dec 5, 2014 | 5:27 PM
by Rachael
       On Sunday, December 21, the LESJC will host a public tour with seasonal appeal: “Delancey to Doughnuts: A Chanukah Walking Tour.” Orchestrating the tour are three exceptional women: Pessie Rosen, a very knowledgeable tour guide, Elissa Sampson, community historian and LESJC tour guide, and Lori Weissman, Director of Touring here at LESJC. Lori is a longtime Lower East Side resident, and she is passionate about its history and works tirelessly to bring it alive.
       The two sites we’ll be visiting are the last standing examples of tenement-lot synagogues on the LES, a form of vernacular, sacred site architecture that was once common down here. The holiday tour will be making a stop at the peerless Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue, a site that will likely be unfamiliar to most New Yorkers and even most Jews. This Romaniote synagogue reflects 2,500-plus years of Romaniote history, and is unique in its standing as the only one of its kind in the western hemisphere. The Romaniote are a small branch of Jews who identify as neither Ashkenaz nor Sephardic, but rather are of Greek descent. Many members of the community were lost during the Holocaust and most now live outside of Greece. As such, Congregation Kehila Janina Kedosha has the privilege of safeguarding a little-known chapter in Jewish history. To that end, the Congregation operates a museum that boasts a literature center, an art gallery, a Holocaust memorial, and items from Janina, the Romaniote capital of Greece. The second site, The Stanton Street Shul, is an iconic example of transplanted Eastern European culture. The building is festooned with Mazalos and scenes from the Holy Land.
       When asked for her perspective on the tour, guide Elissa Sampson said, “These are spaces that are used today. They are important to community today, each and every one of them in different ways. They broaden our understanding of the past and present. I don’t just tell stories about the past. It’s very much about the present and how these buildings are important to us today and how they’re used today.” She
also stresses the importance of safeguarding these spaces, commenting that if we want these buildings for our present or anyone else’s future, we need to put money into them now before they disappear. Elissa demonstrates her particular connection to this tour, revealing, ”I’ve davened at Stanton Street since 1983. I’ve had the honor of knowing many of its immigrant congregants who came just before or after the War [WWII]. I’ve seen it go from a place that mainly spoke Yiddish to one in which the sounds of English, French, Hebrew and Farsi resonate during Friday night dinners. The generational change is phenomenal. And I love both [old and new generations].”
       Join this tour and you are in for many treats: a menorah lighting, soufganiot, and an introduction to an interesting Jewish community you may never have known existed! Speaking about tour participants, Lori Weismman notes, “People who have taken this tour in the past tell us that this tour makes them feel like they are a part of the family. “ So join the family, and sign up for Delancey to Doughnuts.