Monday, August 30, 2010

The New York City Tenement Museum

In the heart of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where huddled masses of immigrants teemed a hundred years ago, a testament to their lives and their struggles beckons. It is called the NYC Tenement Museum. To go there is to time-travel to an era and a place which, if one had their choice via time machine, one would probably not choose to go. For it is at the Tenement Museum that you experience the cramped conditions, the lack, the desperation, but also the pervasive hope and determination of many of our ancestors and remember that, after all, we are a country of immigrants. 

You have to make an appointment to visit the Tenement Museum and you go on your tour in a small group. You choose the experience you wish to have - to learn about one particular family, be it Irish, Jewish, Russian, Greek or Italian, and their struggles. In my experience, the best one is the Confino Family tour where you meet a young actress, flawlessly portraying a Greek/Sephardic immigrant from early in the 20th century, see her home and ask her questions, which she answers completely in character. On the other tours you go with a guide through a family's restored apartment in this once condemned building and he or she explains the family's history and the artifacts therein.

Admission is a little steep: $20 for adults and $15 for students and seniors, but they're pretty generous with discount coupons. They also do public school tours for a much lower price and they provide free tours to ESL groups. For all the grand museums in New York City, this small, rundown brick building on Orchard Street is for so many reasons, in my opinion, truly the most sincere.

Evaluation: Very sincere
108 Orchard Street
New York, NY

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