Lower East Side Tenement Museum
Upon arriving at Orchard Street, I was a tad bit confused as to where the entrance of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum of Art was. After walking back and forth twice from what I thought was the museum’s book store, I realized that this very “book store” was the entrance itself. After finally having entered the museum, I was confused yet again as to where I needed to go to get my ticket. The space that I was standing in could not have been the entire museum. It was full of books that people were buying and there were no other entrances or exits within that room. I went to the counter and there I was told that the actual museum was inside actual tenement buildings located just outside of that bookstore. After I heard this, I could not wait to begin the tour. I signed up for the “Sweatshop Workers” tour and waited as patiently as I could.
After waiting for about 30 minutes, my tour guide finally came in to the bookstore to gather her group. There were only 8 of us in the group, and I was a bit scared at first because I was the youngest member and also surprisingly the only New Yorker. However, my tour guide(whose exotic name I unfortunately do not remember) made sure that everyone felt extremely comfortable and welcomed. Through her, I learned quite a bunch about not just the history of the museum and the lifestyles of Jewish immigrants when they arrived on the Lower East SIde, but also many styles and techniques about how to give a great tour. As a tour guide who is in the process of creating my own unique way of giving a tour that my audience will remember and find interesting, I couldn’t have chosen a better tour to be a part of.
What made my tour guide’s approach extremely welcoming was the fact that she incorproated her audience into almost every part of the tour. Although she did give us a lot of information, she would constantly ask us what we would do if we were in the immigrants’ shoes. She gave us a tour of two different families’ homes- the Rogarshevsky’s and the Levine’s. The Levine’s were a family of five that had their own clothing factory at home. They lived before the Rogarshevsky’s did and their apartment was extremely small. They had one small bedroom, a small kitchen and a parlor, which was separated from the kitchen by a window. My tour guide told us that the windows in the apartments were called “tuberculosis windows” because Jews were often associated with tuberculosis at the time. In just one small room, hundreds of articles of clothing were produced. When photojournalists like Jacob Riis exposed the lifestyles of such families to the upper and middle class of America, the government enforced new working rules to prevent unsanitary conditions and diseases. The mother of the family had the hardest role. She had to work in an extremely small kitchen, sharing it with the ironman. There were no bathrooms at this time, and people usually showered once a week at public bathing houses. In comparison, the Rogarshevksy’s lived slightly better lifestyles than the Levine’s. During their time period, there were now bathrooms, and the furniture inside their house was much more modern. The rooms were a bit bigger, and the mother had much more space to herself.
I was shocked by everything that I saw and learned, especially at the size of the apartments. There’s nothing like walking through and into the houses of immigrants from decades ago. In fact, I believe it’s the best way to learn about them. I felt as if I was in their shoes as my tour guide described every little detail of their lives to me. Seeing both families’ homes was an incredible experience and I recommend the museum to everyone out there, especially my fellow New Yorkers. Having such an opportunity within our city is like a blessing. We should all go out and see how past Americans have lived and how our nation has progressed over time.
-Anjani Ladhar, Teen Guide Council