By: Komal Patel
With the landscape of the Lower East Side changing, the Jewish tradition is not as prominent as it once was. However, in the face of institutions coming and going, some decades-old businesses and cultural sites remain standing, physical reminders of the Jewish vibrancy that once was.
Katz Deli, located at E. Houston and Ludlow, has been around for nearly 125 years. The Katz and Dell families originally opened the deli in 1888. Jake Dell, a fifth generation Dell and third generation owner, attributes the deli’s success to its ability to evoke memories.
“People remember the first time they came to this place,” said Dell. “That has helped us through the years.”
“There are two very important components to this place—the food and the nostalgia, and they go very much hand in hand,” said Dell. “People keep coming back here for the taste because it’s consistent, and they remember it, and that ties into the nostalgia.”
Quality is very important to Dell, and he finds that it is another factor that gives the deli an edge. This is the reason commercially produced food doesn’t worry them.
“I believe it’s not the same genre nor category,” said Dell.
Allen Adler, one of the three owners of Streit’s Matzo Company, finds that his family’s fear that the quality of their matzo will suffer if they try to change facilities has led them to operate from the same building.
“How do we recreate the exact flavor with new equipment when we can’t even do that in the same building on different floors?” Adler said.
Streit’s Matzo Company, which is located on Rivington at Suffolk, was started in 1925 by Adler’s great grandfather and grandfather. The company is and has always been run by family only.
Adler finds that the economy didn’t hurt business much.
“We can’t meet demand without baking year round,” said Adler, adding that their product was now appealing to a new crowd rather than just the “Passover crowd.”
Adler doesn’t see the company moving anywhere anytime soon, mostly because of the family.
“The family didn’t want to move,” said Adler. “So we’re here for the long run.”
Families don’t just keep businesses alive. The Eldridge Street Synagogue, originally built in 1887, sees many visitors come because their families had visited in the past, said Zoe Yates, a member of the Synagogue’s cultural and education team.
“This means a lot to the people,” said Sophie Lo, another member of the cultural and education team. “This isn’t just another church front.”
The Eldridge Street Synagogue, the first synagogue in the United States built from the ground-up by Eastern European Jews, serves as a nationally recognized museum from Sunday through Friday mornings. On the weekends, services are held there.
“By being a landmark, it gives the building itself protection, and having the museum here helps educate people on the neighborhood’s history,” said Yates.
Lo agreed, adding that the history is what makes the synagogue and museum unique.
“[It] reminds us of who the people used to be,” said Lo. “This synagogue isn’t just a part of the history of New York City, it’s a part of the history of the United States.”