A new semester brings for new relationships. Little did I know, I would begin a new relationship with none other than—a New York City street. Located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Hester Street stretches almost a mile long from Essex Street to Centre Street. Tracing back to its history, Hester Street is named for Hester Leisler. She was the daughter of Jacob Leisler, lieutenant governor of the British province of New York, who was unfortunately wrongly accused of high treason and hanged in 1697.
Don’t let its relatively small size fool you, its cultural immigrant history extends far and wide, as more than two million Jews from Russia, Poland, Austria-Hungary and the Balkans who after arriving in the United States settled on the Lower East Side, specifically on Hester street. These immigrants lived in tenements that were produced quickly and at low costs, often noted for their living conditions including minimal pulling and inadequate sanitation. Hester Street became the one of many streets in the Lower East Side in which Jewish culture and religion thrived. This included the establishments of many synagogues, Yiddish theater companies,Yiddish newspapers, and Yiddish and Hebrew publishers. Many of these immigrants earned money by selling goods including fruit, fish, meat, shoes, and clothing from pushcarts that filled the street market to make for a real traffic jam.
The market life still lives on today with the Hester Street Fair, which was established in 1895 and home to New York City’s largest and oldest pushcart markets. Located at the corner of Hester and Essex Street, the street fair’s mission is to sell quality goods and food but to also create a space that reflects the dynamic energy of the Lower East Side. It is currently run by The Big Social, composed of Suchin Pak, Ron Castellano, Adam Zeller, and Suhyun Pak. Today, partnering up with twelve various organizations and home to more than fifty vendors, Hester Street Fair still lives on and is open every Saturday from 10am to 6pm. To get to the fair, you can take the F train to East Broadway of the F, J, M, or Z Train to Delancey.
One noteworthy organization that dwells on Hester Street is known as the Hester Street Collaborative. Founded in 2002, HSC incorporates the use of design to encourage social change in various local communities enforcing principles of design education, community design and advocacy. Located at 113 Hester Street, Hester Street Collaborative works to improve New York City neighborhoods, fostering a strong sense of community within its residents. Visit their website here: Hester Street Collaborative
Exploring its background and noteworthy history, I’ve come to find that Hester Street provides New Yorkers an area designed to support community learning through the development and preservation of local relationships amidst the hustle and bustle of the city. In time, I only expect my relationship with Hester Street will continue to grow and develop as I unfold its story.
“Hester Street Collaborative.” Hester Street Collaborative. Web. 12 Sept. 2011. <http://hesterstreet.org/>. “Hester Street Fair: About.” Hester Street Fair. Web. 12 Sept. 2011. <http://www.hesterstreetfair.com/>. Homberger, Eric. The Historical Atlas of New York City: a Visual Celebration of 400 Years of New York City’s History. New York: Henry Holt, 2005. 132-33. Print. Mendelsohn, Joyce. The Lower East Side Remembered & Revisited: History and Guide to a Legendary New York Neighborhood. New York City: Lower East Side, 2001. 132-34. Print. Photograph. Hester Street Collaborative – Facebook. Web. 12 Sept. 2011. <https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=412867946493&set=a.448264286493.238220.8811611493&type=1> Photograph. Hester Street Fair. Web. 12 Sept. 2011. <http://www.hesterstreetfair.com/wp-content/themes/hesterstreetfair/images/img2.jpg>. Photograph. NY Magazine. Web. 12 Sept. 2011. <http://newyork.grubstreet.com/2011/04/whats_new_at_the_hester_street.html>.
In Walking in the City, Michel de Certeau notes, “The Concept-city is decaying.” (de Certeau 95) New York City was built on a grid system, developed to create a certain kind of living. However, the city developed itself to be polysemic – bound to multiple interpretations and meanings from the people who inhabit it. Our lived experiences are unique as we find our own way in maneuvering the city streets. Every street has a story. We, the people of the city, are the authors who control where the story goes. If you look at Hester Street on a map, it seems like an ordinary city street. However, once you visit it in person, you see how exclusive it really is.
Hester Street closes itself off to the city with Essex to the east, Canal to the south, Grand to the north and Centre to the west, boxing its existence from the rest of the city. I began my walk at the intersection of Centre and Hester. The street was desolate on a rainy Friday morning. I barely felt any pedestrian presence. One thing I noticed at the hanging from the top of the traffic post on Center was a sign that wrote out the words San Gennaro, an annual festival offering city goers a taste of the Italian culture. Streets were closed off as local eateries set up outside dining on the streets. Myself and others comfortably walked on the street along Hester observing the various establishments setting up their different booths. New Yorkers are notorious for walking when and where they’re not supposed to but this seemed special. In turn, I was getting a behind-the -scenes look on the making of such a festival before the hoards of locals and tourists had made their way in to for a taste of Italian cuisine. From Baxter to Mott, the Italian was everywhere. You could grab a coffee at Caffe Napoli or grab a meal at Puglia who considered themselves to have, “The Best Lunch Specials in Little Italy.”
It was interesting to see the many historic establishments having been on Hester Street for decades supplying the locals with traditional Italian cuisine for years on end. Not only exists an Italian population but an abundant Asian community for it seems Hester Street exists as one NYC street that is a crosswords between the two prominent cultures. Local Asian establishments scour the blocks of Hester, including Kin Man Herb Shop, Munchies Paradise, Ho Ho Florist, Ho Won Bake Shoppe, and Hong Kong Supermarket. Sellers here, customers there, local strangers everywhere. You can’t help but notice the rich mult-cultural presence that exists on Hester. It was one of many
streets of the Lower East Side in which tenements were built at low cost to house millions of Jewish immigrants in the late 1800’s. When walking on a street, I tend to look either forward or down. This time, I found myself looking up and around observing the once cramped tenements. These structured buildings seemed to fade against the aggressive advertising of local store front. The local commerciality overrides its sense of living and sense of inhabiting.
Hester Street seems to be under a lot of construction as many New York City streets are. After Bowery, the sidewalk is closed down leaving only one side for pedestrians to walk on. One can observe the desolate construction zones at Hester Street Playground and Allen Street. Every form of construction seems static; unmoving juxtaposing the constant flow of movement along the streets. It seems as if the spaces of Hester Street remain constant in time both culturally and physically, like a page in a history book.
An admirable trait about Hester Street is its sense of locality. No big franchises exist on Hester. Even if you looked hard enough, you wouldn’t find a trace of modern American commercial culture on that street. With time, the pace of Hester got faster. Normally I consider myself a fast paced NYC walker, however, I felt like I was off the pace of the Hester Street regulars who moved with such ease. Since we were forced to walk on one part of the sidewalk, there was a forced interaction. Not it the sense of speed but in the sense of the flow of movement – every store became a means to an end – a destination to fulfill a purpose. Everyone, whether a worker, customer, or loiterer, seemed to have a certain synchronized walking routine maneuvering their way through outside food markets and smokers along the sidewalk. Even with umbrellas, everyone seemed to know where they were going and which direction they were going in without even flinching as pedestrians each had his/her accustomed path over the sidewalks.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” (2)
Not only did I use my eyes, I used my ears. I listened. I listened as the cars splashed in the puddles that amounted during the rain storm. I listened as a woman bargained for prices at a souvenir shop. I listened to the sound the shuffling feet on the sidewalk as people made their way along Hester’s blocks. I listened to the distant buzzing of kids in their afternoon classrooms. Even though everything wasn’t completely coherent, this was the sound of Hester Street in all senses.
Retracing back my steps, Hester Street was filled with its afternoon crowd, making their way through the various local establishments. I walked back, following the path to where I had begun, passing familiar spaces with a changed perspective on little ol’ Hester Street.
1.Certeau, Michel De. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California, 1984. Print.
2. “About Our School.” Emma Lazarus High School. Web. 26 Sept. 2011. <http://www.emmalazarus.org/home/overview>.
Hester Street: Take 4
“The past remains in the detail of the present and can be retrieved from the everyday world…” (1) If you look on Hester Street, past the booming establishments that exist across the blocks, you will find an array of tenements that shadow the sidewalks. Between 1880 and 1920, millions of Jews from Russia, Poland, Austria-Hungary and the Balkans arrived and lived in the Lower East Side. These tenements were around five stories tall with four tiny apartments on each floor that housed around 100 people per building. “Most immigrants and workers remained in lower Manhattan neighborhoods, crammed into makeshift housing, often the former homes of merchants or artisans, hastily divided and reconverted into rental properties, called “rookeries.” Hygiene was abysmal, but owners drew considerable profits from them. Large families packed themselves within these tenements that were poorly ventilated and had minimal plumbing which thus resulted in inadequate sanitation and poor health conditions. (2) These tenements had entered permanently into the New York imagination which were built according to the clearly understood interests of the owners. (4)
Upon walking on Hester Street, you would never realize the amount of history that exists behind closed doors of such tenements. These tenements have gone through some sort of, as Mary N. Woods notes, creative destruction, devouring an existing urban form to re-create itself again and again. These buildings reflect the historical lived experiences of immigrants that came to America back in the 1880s. As Crang notes the notion of palimpsests which “…accumulate to bear silent witness to the passage of time – producing a landscape on which history inscribes itself as a process of addition, amendment and perpetual alteration.” (1) Perusing through the New York Times Historical database, I found several articles dealing with the conditions found within the tenements. Looking back in history, the dwellings on Hester were prone to accidents, fires, and crime.
Here are some of the highlights during the late 1800s to early 1900s:
In a New York Times article published on May 17, 1885 entitled “Typhus Fever in a Tenement,” discussed the tenement houses near Hester Street were under observation by the Sanitary Inspectors in which several cases of typhus fever were discovered. Traced back to an immigrant who came to the country on a German steamer (5)
In addition, a 1885 New York Times Article published on February 11th entitled, “More Unsafe Tenement Houses,” spoke about a meeting of the Board of Health in which the Sanitary Superintendent Day reported that the tenement houses Nos. 55 and 55.5 Mulbery Street and No. 39 Hester Street were dangerous to human life due their want of repair. He noted that these tenements were unfair for human habitation, and he recommended that the premises be vacated within 10 days and not again occupied without a Board of Health permit. the orders for the vacation of the premises were issued. This incident illustrate the atrocious living conditions of the poorly-built tenements. (7)
In another New York Times article published on February 11, 1889, entitled, “Attempt at Arson” discussed the event in which a miscreant attempted to set fire at a tenement house at 7 Hester Street that occupied 16 families. Police called to the scene found in the corner of the cellar, a bundle of smoldering rages that had been saturated with kerosene oil and in the bundle were rolled two boxes of matches and a piece of burned slow fuse. This is one of the many examples in which tenements were subject to crime by miscreants creating a hostile and volatile environment to live in. (6)
Many fires occurred in the Hester Street tenements during the late 1800s and early 1900s. On February 2, 1892, the New York Times article, published an article “Leaped to Escape Flames” The sub-headline reads, “PANIC FOLLOWS A FIRE IN AN OVERCROWDED TENEMENT.” A fire stated in a tenement in the rear of 87 Hester Street, that occupied about 80 persons, leaving eight persons fatally injured, two in which were stated to die from the sustained injuries. The panic of the occupants of the tenement resulted in the overcrowding upon one another until the fire escapes were overloaded. The damages were overlooked seeing as the building was already cheap in construction and the tenants had nothing of great value. (8)
On April 14, 1905, the New York Times published an article “Fire Routs out Hundreds” The tenants of five or six story horses on Hester and Forsyth Streets were cleared out around 2AM when a fire started in the the five-story “sweat shop” building at 129 and 131 Hester Street. Thousands scoured the streets to get away from the roaring flames. Tenements that lived at 63 and 65 Forsyth Street were also affected as the brands from the fire ignited the window casings of these tenement which were take out with much difficulty.Public School No. 7 at Chrystie and Hester caught fire located diagonally across the sweatshop building. More than 150 people were rescued. (9) Many immigrants earned a living in the garment industry whether it was laboring in their apartments doing piecework or “working in sweatshops—workshops that were squeezed into tenements or loft buildings—and were crowded, poorly lit, stifling in the summer and cold in winter. Wages were low and hours long.” (2)
Crimes, fires, and unsafe living conditions swept through the historic tenements of Hester Street highlighting the struggles and adversities faced by the immigrants that dwelled there. Jewish immigrant and journalist, Jacob Riis’ revealing photos were featured in his 1890 book, How the Other Half Lives, influencing housing reforms including the Tenement House Law of 1901 and the creation of the Tenement House Commission. This resulted in the enforcement of new safety and health standards for New York’s overcrowded tenement buildings and furthered the progress of urban renewal. (10) Today, Hester’s tenements are overlooked by the commercial culture that resides on the ground level. This idea is relates to Crang’s references to revalorization who states, “The revalorization comes about under the sign of historic values and also under the sign of new values being inscribed upon the landscape, where the connotations to local residents – whom it reminds us at every turn of their histories, communities, and identities – may be deemed unhistoric and replaced by a new landscape responding to a different history.” (1) Whether we acknowledge it or not, the various histories and lived experiences of Hester Street exists within the tenement’s walls.
1. Crang M, 1996, “Envisioning urban histories: Bristol as palimpsest, postcards, and snapshots” Environment and Planning A 28(3) 429 – 452
2. Homberger, Eric. The Historical Atlas of New York City: a Visual Celebration of 400 Years of New York City’s History. New York: Henry Holt, 2005. 132-33. Print.
3. Resina, Joan Ramon., and Dieter Ingenschay. “After-Images of the “New” New York and the Alfred Stieglitz Circle.” After-images of the City. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2003. Print.
4. Weil, François. A History of New York. New York: Columbia UP, 2004. 104-106 Print.
5. “Typhus Fever in a Tenement.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times. Web. <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FB0B15F93F5411738DDDAD0A94D0405B8284F0D3>.
6. “Attempt at Arson.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times. Web. <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F70D1EF63E5E15738DDDA80994DA405B8984F0D3>.
7. “More Unsafe Tenement Houses.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times. Web. <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FA091FF93F5B10738DDDA10994DA405B8584F0D3>.
8. “Leaped to Escapes.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times. Web. <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F30D15FC355D15738DDDAB0894DA405B8285F0D3>.
9. “Fire Routs Out Hundreds.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times. Web. <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F10B15F9385E12738DDDAD0994DC405B858CF1D3>.
10. “History Engine: Tools for Collaborative Education and Research | Episodes.” History Engine: Tools for Collaborative Education and Research | Home. Web. 03 Oct. 2011. <http://historyengine.richmond.edu/episodes/view/4471>.
Hester Street: Take 5
Retracing back my steps through the history of Hester Street, I continued to analyze the region of New York City from 1880 to 1930 using archival evidence. Going through the Social Explorer database, I had the chance to see the population change within the New York City region including the difference between the number of foreigners and natives living in the city. Hester Street wasn’t particularly a main and specific focus in various census reports that observed but I wanted to see the general makeup of New York City. I wanted the see how the population density changed during the surge of immigrants, primarily Jewish, coming to America and settling in the Lower East Side, specifically on Hester Street.
As you can see between the maps, population stayed within the highest range of people living in Manhattan.
Analyzing the census report, there was a significant increase in total population, population density between 1880 and 1930. In the map of population density from the New York City Department of Planning, Hester Street resides in the ares in which there 250 to 349 person per acre. It was one of the areas of NYC that reflected a high number of occupants living in the region. In the last chart you can observe the change in number of total and foreign-born population in NYC. In 1880, the foreign-born population came to be 478, 670. Fifty years later in 1930, that number jumped to almost 2, 3358, 686—almost five times the amount fifty years prior. This reflects the migration of immigrants entering the city between that range of years as did many Jewish immigrants who resided on Hester on the Lower East Side. It’s interesting to observe the change in numbers due to urbanization.
I also had the chance to observe Hester Street on a Digital Sanborn map in 1913…
Sanborn maps are very useful to observe the urban geography of New York City and its specific streets. It was interesting to find out that these maps were originally created for assessing fire insurance liability in urbanized areas in the United States. Hester Street was especially prone to fires due to tenement living conditions and the high crime rate so these maps coincidentally relate to the development of urban areas including New York City. Kim Keister describes the legacy of Sanborn maps: “Stated simply, the Sanborn maps survive as a guide to American urbanizations that is unrivaled by other cartography and, for that matter, by few documentary resources of any kind.”(3)
One of the most interesting things I found when looking through archival evidence was the New York Public Library’s Digital Collection of photos. I had the chance to look at various photos of Hester Street almost a century ago compared to my experience, observing it now in recent times.
You can observe the rich Jewish culture and the immense amount of people that worked and lived on Hester Street. The street became one of the important areas of the Jewish immigrant community during the late nineteenth century into the early twentieth century. Although the cultural makeup of the region has changed with the introduction of Asian and Italian influence, we can look back at the essence of Jewish heritage on Hester Street through archival evidence.
1. Social Explorer
2.Map and Chart from the New York City Department of Planning – Population Division
3. Keister, Kim (May/June 1993). “Charts of Change”. Historic Preservation 45 (3): 42–49.
4. Proquest Digital Sanborn Map of 1913 (Sheet 4)
5. New York Public Library Digital Gallery
Hester Street: Take 6
Fiction’s relationship place is significant in the way we analyze New York City streets. Upon researching works of fiction related to Hester Street, I came across a novel by Anzia Yezierska entitled, Bread Givers: A Struggle between a Father of the Old World and a Daughter of the New.
The work reflects the meaning of the American dream by a family of Jewish immigrants that lived in the Lower East Side. The first chapter, coincidentally, entitled Hester Street introduces the reader to Sara Smolinsky, a ten year old girl, one of three other sisters in a family of six, reflecting on the conditions of living on Hester Street in the late nineteenth century. She recounts on the struggle against poverty, family, and tradition to break out of the ghetto. (1)
Upon reading the first chapter, I came across this significant passage:
“I didn’t hear. I couldn’t listen to their smartness. I was burning up inside me with my herring to sell. Nothing was before me but the hunger in our house, and no bread for the next meal if I didn’t sell the herring. No longer like a fire engine, but like a houseful of hungry mouths my heart cried, ‘Herring—herring! Two cents apiece!’…I counted my greedy fifty pennies. Twenty-five cents profit. Richer than Rockefeller, I felt. I was always saying to myself, if I ever had a quarter or a half dollar in my hand, I’d run away from home and never look on our dirty house again. But now I was so happy with my money, I didn’t think of running away, I only wanted to show them what I could do and give it away to them. It began singing in my heart, the music of the whole Hester Street. The pushcart peddlers yelling their goods, the noisy playing of children in the gutter, the women pushing and shoving each other with their market baskets—all that was hollering noise before melted over me like a new beautiful song. It began dancing before my eyes, the twenty five herring that earned me my twenty-five cents. It lifted me in the air, my happiness. I couldn’t help it. It began dancing under my feet. And I couldn’t stop myself. I danced into our kitchen. And throwing the fifty pennies, like a shower of gold, into my mother’s lap, I cried, “Now, will you yet call me crazy-head? Give only a look what ‘Blood-and-iron’has done.” (1)
Central themes of New York City fiction pieces are expressed in Bread Givers. First, the preoccupation of business and money-making. The Smolinsky household engages in the need to earn more money and economic covetousness. Sara has to earn money to maintain her family’s well-being. She and her sisters have to constantly work to keep the landlord from pestering them for the rent whether it was working at a pushcart or a shirt factory. There is an attempt to represent speech to convey Sara’s speed, rhythm and particularities. It is evident as you can sense the urgency in Sara’s voice as she recounts the story of selling herrings on the street, committed and passionate to fix the starvation that was occurring in her home. You can almost hear her voice ringing through Hester Street to make some change for a loaf of bread to bring home for dinner. You can sense her excitement as she received twenty-five cents profit, as she recalls it feeling richer than Rockefeller. It makes us step back and evaluate our own situation and the things we take for granted.
Along with the historical evidence of the horrible conditions of tenements on the Lower East Side, you can imagine the cramped living situation of Smolinksy household. Sara states, “The school teacher’s rule, ‘A place for everything, and everything in its place,’ was no good for us, because there weren’t enough places.”(1) If they didn’t get work, they would be thrown in the street to shame and to laughter for the whole world to see. The goal always in life was to make money and continue to live another day. Another theme is the city’s contradictory faces of glamour and squalor. The squalor focus is evident in Sara’s situation with rundown back alley tenements on Hester Street as the backdrop. It really brings to life the notion of the haves and have nots. Although Sara is not satisfied with the way she is living, she does everything in her power to make her parents happy even stealing unburned pieces of coal from ash cans in the streets to burn for a fire. Even though she felt it made her look like a beggar and a thief, she would hate to disappoint her family. It seems as if Sara has to constantly prove herself to her family as well as prove her own self worth to herself. She is truly selfless. With the backdrop of the large dense urban population, you can really sense the essence of the pushcart market that existed on Hester Street many years ago. You hear the wheels rolling down the street with the peddlers shouting for a penny or two to at least to finish off the day with something to eat. Hearing the music of Hester Street, Sara was home. One of the most important themes of NYC fiction that is evident in the novel is the process for finding one’s way through the city. It really shows how Sara struggled to overcome the obstacles of living in such a big city, fighting against the turmoil of living at home alienated from following her own dreams.
Anzia Yezierska was a Jewish immigrant herself revealing in her stories the way in which women encountered the new world and tried to reconcile with the old. Millions of Jewish immigrants came to live the American dream, yet only to find a life of hardship and adversity. Old world values including the heavy focus on religious injunction affected the way in which the family was structured. In the Smolinsky household, all the women worked to collect wages while the father, Reb Smolinsky studied the Torah. Although women complained often and bitterly, Jewish faith provided both solace and rationalization for their hard life. Only men could study the Torah. Reb Smolinsky clung to old paths, spending his days in holy study while remaining untempted by money. (1) Overall, the story gives witness the struggle of transitioning into life in America and the conflicts that would arise due to housing conditions, poverty, starvation, etc. You can see the backdrop of the dense urban immigrant population with geographical enclaves as in this case the Jewish immigrant community that populated Hester Street and the rest of the Lower East Side. it goes to show that transition isn’t always going to be smooth. Fiction works to offer a personalized point of view to the audience. The author places the audience with a subjective point of view that invites interpretations not usually afforded by other sources of media while expressing the relationship between fiction and geography. Fiction relies on the use of space to place narratives in a credible reality and gives truth about details of space in particular—Hester Street. Although the work is fiction, you can hear the reality of life in Sara’s voice and imagine the lived experiences of immigrants that dwelled on Hester Street on the Lower East Side.
As this entry called to relate to a work of fiction, I thought I would try my hand at writing about a character living on Hester Street in the late nineteenth century…
A bathtub of water couldn’t wash the dirt and filth that existed on my body. A sleepless night, I laid awake with my body against the cold floor. I couldn’t move as countless number of bodies lay asleep all around me in that small tenement at 146 Hester Street. All I could do was breathe. My thoughts were endless. Who could I be? Where could I go? I knew the answers to those questions: nobody; nowhere. I never anticipated when I could see the darkness fading away and the sun making its way into the sky. That meant a new day of the pushcarts making their way on the street with peddlers yelling for someone to hear them. That meant a new day of struggle for me and my family to find work or put food on the table. That meant a new day of wearing the same raggedy clothes I had been wearing for days on end. That meant a new day of sleeping in that hazardous tenement that provided no means of escape. That meant a new day of feeling that America wasn’t the dream I spent endless nights thinking of. That meant a new day on Hester Street…
1. Yezierska, Anzia. Bread Givers. New York: Alice Kessler Harris,1975. V, 8, 22-23. Print.
2. NYPL Digital Gallery
3. Anzia Yezierska
4. Bread Givers Photo
Hester Street: Take 7
“Film appears to capture the ‘flow of life’ of the city but it is in fact a patchwork of time-spaces, stitched together in a seemingly seamless sequence.”
—Steve Pile, The Problem of London
Unlike many Jewish immigrants dwelling on the Lower East Side, he earns a good living, making twelve dollars a week, sewing clothes in a sweatshop with his good friend, Bernstein. In one scene, the boss goes on and on with a superior tone, reflecting on the difference of status between his workers and himself. He picks on Bernstein, questioning his job in the old country as a Yeshiva student. The boss who was once a peddler is laughing at their respective positions. He boasts, “The peddler becomes a boss, and the yeshiva bocher sits at the sewing machine.” Although the boss is the epitomizes the American dream, obtaining great opportunities, and rising in the American social ladder, he also strays from the general respect people had of Talmudic scholars in the Old World. This scene captures the possibility of making it in America but twists it in that makes the viewer side more with Bernstein and sympathize with the boss’ harsh remarks of his traditional values.
It seems as if Jake finds Gitl restricting from living as a real “Yankee”. Gitl has to live hidden as Jake is embarrassed to take her around for she refuses to change her traditional wardrobe and mindset. Pile describes film as traveling through and moving in time and space in the labyrinth of the city. To find a memory, one needs to locate it, find its location, and to search its past and see the ways in might have been. (1) By reestablishing connections to other places, we can really grasp the mood and experiences of the people of the Hester Street—in this case through Jake and Gitl. Silver draws on the city life on street in one particular scene. Jake takes his son, Joey for a stroll on Hester Street. You can really grasp the push market lifestyle and its constant flow of movement. Pile describes that film can move between places, capturing simultaneities and connections that are, in many ways, ‘at a distance’ for example, by cutting between one event and another, or by moving backwards or forwards in time, or by panning or zooming, in and out. (1) As opposed to many other scenes in the movie, this one starts off with a catchy, cheerful tune. You can hear no one talking except for the woman peddlers who are trying to earn a penny. The camera moves in a horizontal manner following Jake and Joey on their walk on Hester cutting between various scenes that depict the market lifestyle and the NYC flow. Children running and playing on wheel carts in the street. Horse drawn carriages carrying people to and fro. Peddlers socializing with one another. A woman bargaining prices for potatoes. A woman with a basket of pretzels to sell. A man looking at a pair of boots. A man pushing a fish in a customer’s face. A closeup of a man selling carpet and rugs. A woman de-feathering a chicken. At one point, Jake points and says horse to Joey who he asks to repeat. Joey says, “Horse!” and Jake is delighted at his progress of learning English. The camera zooms in and out on the wooden pushcarts in the street cutting through the many scenes while intertwining with the focus of Jake and Joey making their way through the crowd. Silver really tries to capture the essence of Hester Market and the people who lived there including their words, actions, emotions and modes of feelings. Pile recounts that with film we get a sense of the multiple and overlapping (hi)stories and geographies that make up the cityscape. (1) Watching films, we observe scenes, knowing the actors in the film can’t look back at us. Acknowledging this in the film experience we feel that we have an inside perspective without affecting the actions of the characters themselves. In addition, as viewers, we identify with characters that we see at the screen; so looking at Jake showing Joey around in a new place makes us sympathize with the overwhelming feeling of adapting to a new environment.
The tension between Jake and Gitl continues on throughout the movie. While Jake distances himself more and more, Gitl gets to know Bernstein who spends his nights studying as well as teaching young Joey the Yiddish language. Knowing that separation is inevitable, Jake and Gitl decide to get divorced. The viewers get a chance to observe a customary Jewish divorce. Ironically, this is the first time you see Gitl embrace the American culture, leaving at home her kerchief, wig, and custom dress and wearing conventional female New Yorker dress and hat. The last two scenes, the viewer sees Jake and Gitl go off in two directions. Jake goes towards the top left side of the screen, walking off after just marrying Mamie, his mistress. The next scene cuts to Gitl, walking towards the bottom right side of the screen, with Bernstein (who appreciates her love of traditional customs) and Joey. Gitl assures Bernstein he can continue being a Talmudic scholar and studying ancient texts while she will go out and be a peddler to earn money for the family. The new family thus will continue to adapt to the New World while incorporating some of the Old World ideas as well. The former couple walk in opposite directions and take with them different values and customs. The film demonstrates the struggles that were involved in the assimilation to a new culture filled with new ideas and practices; the oonflict between the the Old and the New.
Amongst all the closed shops, the cross street of Mulberry and Hester is a particular part of that really lights up quiet Hester. On each four corners of the block exist a distinct Italian restaurant (Caffe Napoli, Da Gennaro, Giovanna’s and Casa Bella) all competing for people to come in and enjoy a late night dinner. There is a certain attraction to these eateries and their aggressive advertising shows us where the fun is and where it isn’t. As Schlör notes, “these places, cafes, restaurants, cafe-concerts, honky-tonks, variety theaters, and bars are part of the furniture of the nocturnal street, without it would lose a great deal of its power of attraction.” (1) The night time walk proved to be a bit eerie so I felt encouraged to go inside one of these restaurants as a way of escaping contact with the dark street as Schlör notes to “avoid acquaintance with the unhappy parts of the night.” (1) This is turn reveals civilization’s accepting its own existence of its own shadow side.
During my walk, one establishment that caught my eye was the Wash N’ Go Laundromat. Still open, I peered through the window from across and saw numerous bags that crowded the little shop. I wondered if people could actually move in there. What was interesting was that a little group, females and males, of all different ethnicities, had formed outside the door who seemed to be waiting for their laundry to finish. It was as the night gave birth to a little community of local residents who spent their nights to do a load of laundry. During the morning and afternoon, there exists a constant flow of movement. The night allowed this group of individuals to stop on the sidewalk, stand and socialize to reflect on how the day went.
The night walk down Hester continued. Mark Caldwell’s New York Night, he recalls the Armory Hall, a concert saloon owned by Billy McGlory during the 1890s. It was “…a haunt so infamous that it had been condemned (and thus incidentally publicized) from far away as Cincinnati. (2) Cancans and private rooms, the Armory was notorious for its extravagant escape during the night. However, as Schlör notes, the street represents a fundamentally dangerous terrain and so there are attempts to ‘cleanse’ it, to drive out the elements of disorder and immorality. (1) In time, Armory Hall did in fact shut down. I passed 156-60 Hester Street which are now various Asian shops and establishments. It’s interesting to acknowledge how the area has transformed from being a former underground place of illicit activity. Once a crime-ridden area has now somewhat cleaned itself up through history.
My walk extended to Hester Street Playground. As I took a rest on the bench, I observed a garbage can beside me. What was so distinct was the train of giant rats climbing up and down perusing through the filth. They strode with much confidence as if the night afforded them a cloak to roam around as they pleased. It gave them the feeling as if they were invincible. If that were to happen in the day, people would scream and shout in fear of the little creatures. But the night gave them the opportunity to wander freely with little notice from the pedestrians of the night. The presence of rats increase as the shadows cloud over the sidewalks as they are free from the normal behavior that the day affords to them.
Schlör describes the enterprise transformation of the night. He states, “The hectic pace of the day-time traffic slackens off, the atmosphere of the city calms down, and the streets become easier to walk again. But new restrictions limit the capacity for observation; in the interplay of light and shadow many outlines become more clear; others, however, disappear.”(1) The night to me seems to be contradictory. The artificiality that lit up Hester did not fully account for the shadows that lurked among the corners and what mystery still remains to be uncovered. I hope to find out more. But for now, let’s call it a night.
1. Schlör, Joachim. Nights in the Big City. Reaktion Books, 1998
2. Caldwell, Mark. New York Night: The Mystique and its History. “Electric Lights and Brass Knuckles.” Simon and Schuster 2001
Hester Street: Take 9
“Cityscapes exercise enormous rhetorical power over public imagination. “
The Bowery Boogie published a Craigslist casting call for the show at the beginning of September 2009:
Central Casting is starting to cast for a new HBO show called “HOW TO MAKE IT IN AMERICA” from the creators of “ENTOURAGE”. The show takes place in the world of fashion and hipsters. The show will be shooting in NYC in all the hottest and trendiest locations. The categories we are looking to cast for are:
Hipsters! Hipsters! Williamsburg types or LES. People with great wardrobe. Ages 20′s and 30s
Models- Female and Male
Indie Rock Band Types (let us know if you can play instrument)
Lower East Side Domincan or Hispanic types (all ages)
Hip and Trendy types with Real Bartending experience
Hipsters with Tattoos
Another casting call was also published in November 2009…
These casting calls thus further the idea of painting an image of the city that people further associate it with. According to How to Make it in America’s portrayal, New York seems to be a city mainly filled trendy, fashionable hipsters. Although the demographic may exist, the show gives the audience a sense of what the WHOLE city may be like, which thus manipulates their understanding of the space and the reality of the people actually living there. These casting calls presents the artificiality. As Haskin and Sadler refer to Umberto Eco, Within time, the recurring metonymic representation of the city makes people forget about the real New York.
The city image becomes a postcard, for “what counts . . . is not the authenticity of a piece, but the amazing information it conveys” (1) The glitz and glam of Hollywood and the yearning to represent the friendlier side of the city. It brings forth the idea of a concept city noted by Michel De Certeau, which is a fantasy that motivates planners and reformers in their desire to make the cityan object of knowledge and a governable space. They dream of encompassing the diversity, randomness, and dynamism of urban life in a rational blueprint, a neat collection of statistics, and a clear set of social norms. New York becomes unified in the discourse of television shows and the dominant images that portray the city. (1)
People don’t actually grasp the reality of the area itself and the complex nature of filming in certain locations. Chinatown and the Lower East Side are prime locations for film and television production. Knowing this, such productions actually interrupt the flow within neighborhoods causing resistance of such work. How to Make it in America shot in the Lower East Side for weeks on end during production. In a 2006 City Limits article, entitled, Fed Up with Filming: Chinatown Resists, I-Ching Ng writes, “Rather than seeing film and television production as a chance to boost Chinatown’s image or generate profits, many neighborhood residents and shop owners consider it a chronic problem that disrupts daily life and exacts a costly toll on their small businesses. (5) Ng notes on how these production crews impede on vehicle and pedestrian traffic that ultimately slow down the routines of business and residents. Nowhere is this inconvenience more detrimental than in Chinatown, where the neighborhood’s narrow streets make it difficult for film crews and residents to coexist. Film production blocks off parking and sometimes entrances to local establishments. This causes a significant loss in revenue for independent owners who rely on thru traffic to survive. Some business owners retaliated, chose to bang pots that ultimately disrupted production that in the prolong the process of actually filming the scene. (5) Thus television shows affect the way in which people accept a representation of New York City as well as affect the people who are actually living the reality.
These various images becomes an anchor that boils down the meaning of New York City to a metonymy, a part that stands for the whole. (1) This relates to Jean Baudrillard’s idea of simulation, which is the process in which representations of things come to replace the things being represented . . . the representations become more important than the “real thing.” We often Baudrillard argues that today we only experience prepared realities- edited war footage, meaningless acts of terrorism, the Jerry Springer Show. He says, “The very definition of the real has become: that of which it is possible to give an equivalent reproduction. . . The real is not only what can be reproduced, but that which is always already reproduced: that is the hyperreal. . . which is entirely in simulation. The illusion is no longer possible because the real is no longer possible.” (6) These effects have the potential to lead to brief moments in which many diverse meanings are superimposed, one upon the other, as they suggest multiple associations they may have with the content of the programs. The complex situations of the program, along with the multi-layered characterization of each character give the program a sense of “realness” that causes the audience to treat these characters and locations as actual people and places. The blurred lines between reality and fiction that exists within the program is part of television’s form of “presentness”, or its implicit claim to be live that founds the impression of immediacy, and thus, reality.Therefore, when the audience becomes fully engaged within the symbolic reality presented through television, meaning is created through the disengagement with actual reality, as viewers create and apply concepts to their personal ideologies of the different spaces being represented.
1.Sadler, William J. and Haskins, Ekaterina V. Metonymy and the Metropolis: Television Show Settings and the Image of New York City. Journal of Communication Inquiry July 2005 vol. 29 no. 3 195-216
You can obviously observe the great enthusiasm in the children’s body movements, hand gestures, and facial movements. However, you can sense the enthusiasm even more when you close your eyes and just listen. You can picture in your head their smiles, laughter as the rap advertises their space in the market. The noise was created as a means to express their happiness inside (1); to express their yearning as to why people should come see Hester Street Fair and take in all the eagerness and fervor of the Hester Street marketeers.Not only can sound be traced to the modern everyday noise of street speaking and hanging out on Hester but it is also reflected in the music that is demonstrative of Hester’s history. The Hester Street Troupe, comprised of Jay Sweifach on keyboards, Alan Sweifach on clarinet, and Jim Bazewicz on drums) is a musical group specializing in Klezmer and Jewish entertainment for over thirty years.Their extraordinary repertoire consists of Klezmer, a style where the clarinet imitates human emotions like laughing and crying, songs from the Yiddish Vaudeville and Second Avenue Theatres, as well as classic older and more contemporary Jewish Melodies. Their recordings combine a celebration of songs from the Yiddish Vaudeville and the Lower East Side, traditional Klezmer medleys, traditions of the Jewish experience, as well as a peek at a slice of life in the old Jewish community called the Shtetl. You will hear horse hooves clopping on cobblestone as street vendors hawk their wares and the Klezmer musicians frolic in the street.The Troupe has performed throughout the Northeast as well as in in Florida, playing to standing-room-only audiences. This much sought after group combines a special brand of shtick with popular Jewish songs for an explosive evening of entertainment. (2) The mere existence of such a group reflects the historical value of living on Hester in the Lower East Side (even going as far as naming themselves after the street). Their music, performed throughout the country, helps us experience and immerse ourselves in the historic time period or cultural experiences associated with the space of Hester. The sounds demonstrates the pride that encompasses being Jewish and tracing your roots back to the significant space. As sounds unified blacks living in Harlem, music unites the Jews that once resided on the Lower East Side and the history that serves to the environment.The experiences we take in through use of our senses make our lives meaningful. Hearing, a basic fundamental aspect of life, has a great effect on our personal character. Music is the highest of the arts for the same reasons that sounds are more powerful and take precedence over visual images. It also speaks to the ability of sound to learn the nuances and subtleties of emotions as well as to convey moods and feeling. The use of sound through which self-expression is used to connect to others. Hearing is the foundation on which significant social values are manifested. It is crucial and evident for society to preserve the integrity of the sounds that have surrounded us throughout history as well as in our everyday like and to perpetuate and put forward such examples found in spoken word and music.Works Cited1. Corbould, Clare “Streets , Sounds and Identity in Interwar Harlem.” Journal of Social History – Volume 40, Number 4, Summer 2007, pp. 859-8942. Hester Street Troupe. “Who Are We.”< http://www.hesterstreettroupe.com/Who%20We%20Are.htm>Videoshttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwlFJ8rYSXU
6. Miller, Kiri. Grove Street Grimm: Grand Theft Auto and Digital Folklore. Journal of American Folklore.