If you need to be there
"It's like a visual postcard, and
it's how things often unfold on
the Lower East Side," says Mr.
O'Donnell, who has emphasized
how various ethnic groups suc-
ceeded the earliest ones.
Mr. O'Donnell keeps up a live-
ly narrative all the way. A histo-
ry professor at Hunter College,
he not only gives tours for the
Lower East Side Tenement Mu-
seum but is also co-founder of his
own tour company, Big Onion
Walking Tours (Big Onion was
New York's early nickname be-
fore it became Big Apple).
With his urban expertise, Mr.
O'Donnell has led numerous city
tours, but the Lower East Side is
one of his favorites. "When peo-
ple talk about the pioneer in
American history, they think of
covered wagons and going west,"
he says. "But the fundamental
American pioneer story starts
with a steamship over the ocean,
and with 'pioneers' who settled
right here and survived enor-
"They didn't live in log cabins.
They lived in tenements. And
they were every bit as brave and
courageous as the pioneers of the
As we walk, we see many of
the "firsts" that these pioneers es-
For instance, at #60 Essex
Street, we see the property where
a small group of German Jews
began to hold meetings. It was
a group which evolved into B'nai
We also stop at #5 Ludlow
Street, where the sign indicates
a funeral home. "But look above,"
Mr. O'Donnell tells us. And he di-
rects our eyes to a Star of David
high above the sign, a reminder
that this was once the meeting
place for a group of Jews from the
same village in Poland who got
together in 1892 to form one of
the earliest landsmanschaften.
Synagogues, schools, social
clubs — we see evidence of all
this and more on our varied tour.
We also sample the flavor, liter-
ally, of immigrant life.
For instance, on Grand Street,
Mr. O'Donnell points out Kasar's
Bakery, which still turns out
10,000 bialys a day. The bialy, he
explains, is "a Jewish style Eng-
lish muffin," named for Bialy-
stock, the town in Russian where
the bialy was born.
There are still more flavors to
come, as we go around the corner
to Essex Street and see giant
pickle barrels outside of Essex
Street Pickles, also known as
The co-existence of knishes
and burritos is just one example
of the diversity of life on the
streets of the Lower East Side-
streets that have become in-
triguing now that we know their
"It's living history," he says. "It
really brings to life the Jewish
immigrant experience. " 0
yesterday, we can
probably find a flight.
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