If you thought the only day for the Jews and the Chinese to revel in each other’s tradition was Christmas, think again. Now in its 13th year, the annual Egg Creams and Egg Rolls Festival hosted by the Museum at Eldrige Street brings together at least 10,000 people each year to celebrate the past and present of the Lower East Side. And for just $5, you can get a taste of both cultures in the form of greasy egg rolls and frothy egg creams.
The festival, held on a Canal Street home to a dozen Chinese restaurants and the museum, which was once a synagogue, highlights similarities between the two traditions.
“We’re both nerd cultures,” said Julie Tay, a traditional Chinese Musician with the East River Ensemble. “We all know that when we bring home a 95 percent on a test, our parents ask us why we didn’t get 100 percent.”
More overlap on display: the delicate Jewish art of paper cutting, and some of the most extravagant Chinese paper folding I have ever seen. Much like a sofer stam, or Jewish scribe, the Chinese scribe also requires certain meditation and purity to perform his work, event organizer, Hanna Griff-Sleven, explained.
Inside the museum, festival attendees could make challah and observe a tea ceremony; take Chinese and Yiddish lessons and learn about Mah Jongg, the game beloved by older women from Chinatown to Collins Avenue in Miami.
As I wandered through the festival with my friends, I wondered what it would have looked like to walk on the street one hundred years ago, when the neighborhood was predominately inhabited by Eastern European Jews, when the now-museum was actually a functional synagogue, where my great-great aunts and uncles may have lived.
I was curious about the transition into Chinatown, which I find to be one of the most fascinating neighborhoods in New York City. When the first Chinese immigrants came to the neighborhood, do you think anyone sat down for a dinner of egg rolls and egg creams? Do you think the artists shared cutting and folding techniques or the scribes meditated together before sitting down to write out their respective characters? Probably not. Luckily for us, the Museum at Eldridge Street brings these similarities to light, and lets us ponder them as we walk the streets with a crispy egg roll washed down with a sweet egg cream.
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