President's Day, Pastrami, Eldridge Street February 18, 2008

Presidents’ Day, Pastrami, Eldridge Street,

and the Pickle Boys!


Richard J. Garfunkel

(Contributions from Linda R. Garfunkel)

February 18, 2008



It’s finally dark here in the eastern bank of the Hudson River. It was about 12 hours ago when I was just getting up and showering. Linda was home for the holiday and I was running out to get over to WVOX radio in New Rochelle. I was invited to be on Bob Marrone’s morning show to be the radio’s resident expert on FDR as the station commemorated “Presidents’ Day.” Though many believe that this day is now officially named Presidents’ Day that is not true. The law, HR 15951, which was signed in 1968, officially shifted Washington’s Birthday to the 3rd Monday in February. It came into affect on January 1, 1971, during the administration of the late and unlamented Richard Nixon, who named it Presidents’ Day. Well the official bill to change the name to Washington-Lincoln Day failed in Congress, and even though “Tricky Dickie” renamed it Presidents’ Day, the change was never signed into law.


In fact, there is no official way to even spell Presidents Day or Presidents’ Day. The only one clear fact is that under federal law it is still Washington’s Birthday and that only a handful of states have changed it to Presidents’ Day. Therefore, Washington’s Birthday, which was enacted as a federal holiday in 1880, in the District of Columbia, and was expanded to the nation in 1895, still remains. The holiday was first celebrated in 1796, the last year our first President was in office, but because when Washington was born, the old style calendar was in use, and many celebrated his birthday both on February 11th and February 22nd, the generally recognized birthday of the “Father of Our Country.”


With all that silliness in mind, the last three weeks have been devoted to talking about FDR. On January 30th, I devoted my radio program to FDR and had as my guest, former Professor Bernard Bellush of CCNY. Professor Bellush talked about his book FDR as Governor of New York, which he wrote in 1955, and his personal impressions of those dark days in March of 1933, when seventy-five years ago, FDR took the oath of office. This morning I again digressed on our great 32nd President, and next Monday at the JCC of the Hudson, I will be giving a speech on Eleanor Roosevelt. By the way, if you want to hear that interview with Professor Bellush, it can be listened to on:


Meanwhile we headed into New York to see the new Wedgwood exhibition at the USB Building on 51st Street near the Avenue of the America’s (6th Avenue to you out-of-towners) and to our chagrin, even though the building was open, the exhibition was closed. But luckily, the displays were all in the lobby, and one could easily see the pieces from the outside of the building. We were happy to see that many of the pieces displayed could have come directly from our collection. So it wasn’t a total loss, and we headed back to our car. Parking in New York City was quite confusing because the media said that parking was to be “Sunday rules,” but, the parking enforcement people did not seemed to be informed of that reality.


We then headed down 7th Avenue, all the way to Bleeker Street, and turned east to find the Bowery, which enabled us to easily reach Grand Street. Our destination was the newly restored Eldridge Street Synagogue. We found our way to the beginning of Eldridge Street and therefore quickly to number 15. This synagogue is one of the oldest in New York, and it fell into terrible disrepair in the 1970’s. When it was built in 1886 with the help of a local banker, the famous Kosher butcher Isaac Gellis and a few other well-off families, the Lower East Side was teeming with Jewish immigrants and there were synagogues on almost every street.


As one can imagine, the Lower East Side has changed dramatically in the past decades. I first went down to Grand Street in 1969 when I was about to get married. In those days it was still a thriving shopping area, dominated by mostly Jewish run textile stores. Some of the familiar names were, Penchina, Shoreland, Eldridge, Harris-Levy, Grand Street, Ostrove’s and Rice & Breskin. Over the years as the Jewish clientele moved out of the city and into the suburbs, the character of the Lower East Side started to change. Many of the children of the retailers found other pursuits and as the demographics changed their profit margins narrowed, dwindled, and eventually disappeared.


When one travels now across Grand Street, the area is completely absorbed by the expanding Chinatown. The newly restored Eldridge Street Synagogue is completely surrounded by Chinese enterprises and absolutely no one walking past the building is not Asian. But we went in, were instantly impressed and awed by the restoration, and awaited the 12:00 tour. We weren’t disappointed as we learned about how the congregation prospered, and raised $91,000 for the purchase of the land and the subsequent building of this beautiful Moorish style edifice. Eventually the building fell into disrepair as the population left the area, and the membership shrank to a handful of families. In 1986, 100 years after it’s founding, the Eldridge Street Project was established, and over $20 million was raised for its restoration. Now after over twenty years of work, it is almost completed and it is designated a National Landmark. One could look it up and find more information at 


After the tour, our next destination was Moishe’s Bakery, on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 7th Street. We had discovered it on Christmas Day when were last in the Lower East Side touring. On that day we went on the “Nosh Tour,” which started at Temple Chasam Sofer on Clinton Street. We eventually reached the Angel Orensanz Cultural Center, the oldest surviving structure built as a synagogue, which was originally founded as Anshe Chesed in 1849, and then finished up at the Stanton Street Synagogue, a classic tenement style shul, which was built in 1913.


For all of you that crave a real Jewish seeded rye bread, Moishe’s is the place. We easily parked on 7th Street, had money in the meter, made our purchase, and headed back over to Houston Street and the world famous Katz’s Delicatessen. Again I found a conveniently located parking space, ran in, ordered some sliced salami and some lean pastrami, and my way out quite quickly. Out on the sidewalk, Linda wound up taking a picture for a young couple from London who had just finished lunch there. I asked them how they knew of Katz’s Deli, and they said they learned about it from the film Harry Met Sally. I quipped that I wasn’t sure sitting in Katz’s would duplicate what happened in the film.


It was back in the car, and with a few turns, here and there, we were on the last leg of our Lower East journey. We were looking for a pickle vendor. I had remembered that there was an outdoor pickle shop on Essex Street. Turning around and going south on 1st Street, we crossed Houston, as it became Essex, and headed almost down to Delancy, where we found the Pickle Boy Store on the right. It wasn’t Guss’s, but the pickles were just as good. Linda bought two quarts of sours and half-sours, and we made our way back to Houston, turned east heading for the entrance to the FDR Highway north, and before long we were back in Tarrytown, where we enjoyed a wonderful, but late lunch.




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