New York City is full of Jewish history

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In this Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011 photo, the exterior of The Pickle Guys on Essex Street is shown on the Lower East Side in New York. The store's barrel-cured pickles are reminiscent of a past era when specialty retailers in the neighborhood catered to the Jewish immigrant community. (AP Photo/Beth Harpaz)  Beth Harpaz
Beth Harpaz
In this Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011 photo, the exterior of The Pickle Guys on Essex Street is shown on the Lower East Side in New York. The store's barrel-cured pickles are reminiscent of a past era when specialty retailers in the neighborhood catered to the Jewish immigrant community. (AP Photo/Beth Harpaz)

NEW YORK — Museums and historic sites, the world’s largest menorah, and a trendy new Tribeca restaurant inspired by an old-school Catskills resort. They’re all part of Jewish New York, with a heritage that stretches back 400 years.

Visitors with an interest in Jewish New York will want to explore many parts of the city, from the Jewish Children’s Museum in Brooklyn to a 17th century graveyard on a Chinatown sidestreet.

An obvious place to start is Ellis Island, where the ancestors of so many American Jews first set foot on U.S. soil. Boats run from Battery Park – schedules at www.statuecruises.com – to the National Park site in New York Harbor.

From where the boat lets you off on your return to Manhattan, you can walk to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park City.

The museum was created as a memorial to those who perished in the Holocaust. Admission, $12 (children 12 and under free); closed Saturdays; www.mjhnyc.org.

A little farther uptown, you’ll find a newcomer restaurant with nostalgic ties to New York’s Jewish past. Kutsher’s Tribeca, which opened in November at 186 Franklin St., is the brainchild of Zach Kutsher, whose grandparents ran Kutsher’s Country Club, a popular Catskills resort in its mid-20th century heyday. The menu reinvents and updates favorite Jewish comfort foods, offering savory brisket meatballs, chopped liver made from duck, and yummy matzo ball soup with dill. Kutsher’s is not strictly kosher but it does not serve forbidden foods such as pork or shellfish.

Next, head to Chinatown. Near the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge, just south of Chatham Square, is the oldest Jewish cemetery in the U.S., at 55 St. James Place.

The graveyard was used from 1682 to 1828 by Congregation Shearith Israel, also known as the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue.

Heading north, you’ll find the Eldridge Street Synagogue, 12 Eldridge St., www.eldridgestreet.org. It was founded in 1887 as the first great house of worship built by Eastern European Jews in the U.S. In 2007, after a 20-year, $18 million restoration, a museum opened onsite about the synagogue and local Jewish history.

Nearby is the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, 97 Orchard St., www.tenement.org. The building dates to 1863, but it was a time capsule when the museum acquired it in 1996: Its apartments had been sealed off since 1935. Museum tours ($22) now tell the stories of the real people who lived there.

Other worthwhile stops in the area include the Bialystoker Synagogue, organized in 1865 and housed in an 1826 fieldstone Federal style building at 7-11 Willett St.; and the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy, which offers walking tours on New York Jewish history and operates a storefront visitor center at 400 Grand St. with interesting exhibits; www.lesjc.org.

During Hanukkah, the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish outreach organization sponsors the lighting of a massive menorah, 32 feet tall, on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street near Central Park, Tuesday through Dec. 27.

Candles are lit at 5:30 p.m., except for the Sabbath, with a 3:30 p.m. lighting Dec. 23 and 8:30 p.m. Dec. 24.

The Jewish Children’s Museum, in Crown Heights, Brooklyn (792 Eastern Parkway), offers hands-on interactive exhibits about holidays and culture along with a climbing wall for young children and a minigolf course. Museum admission, $10; kids under 2, free; closed Friday-Saturday; www.jcm.museum.

The Jewish Museum at 92nd Street and Fifth Avenue is holding The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats, a moving tribute to the beloved author of books such as Whistle for Willie.

Admission, $12; children under 12, free; closed Wednesdays; www.thejewishmuseum.org.


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