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The New Old Country

by Faye M. Lederman

Nostalgia, memory, and history on the Lower East Side

How did Gus' Pickles, the abandoned Eldridge Street Synagogue, and Sammy's kosher-style steakhouse become fixtures in American Jews' attachment to New York City's Lower East Side? The New Old Country follows the journey of American Jews who flock from across the country in search of their grandparents' stories about growing up in the neighborhood. Their tourist travels reveal an intricate web of nostalgia, collective memory and the elusive nature of recorded history. The New Old Country explores the question of how nostalgia and memory diverge, by weaving together a variety of footage: tourists and Jewish youth groups who travel from across the country to take the Big Onion Walking Tour of the Lower East Side; elderly, mah jong-players whose banter about the good old days both celebrates and debunks various myths about the area's history; a three-generation family that has remained in the neighborhood despite a suburban exodus; and patrons of local eateries who connect their cultural identities to Jewish foods they believe are authentic only when consumed on the Lower East Side. Together with interviews with urban historians, these scenes create a visual essay which raises discussion about the immigrant experience, the formation of cultural identity, and the acts of storytelling, remembering and writing history.

quoteThe New Old Country offers a fresh view on the Lower East Side. In examining the nostalgia and mythology surrounding the area, it reveals why this quintessential Jewish neighborhood has taken on such powerful meaning for so many generations. It is a wonderful film for teaching in American Studies, and anthropology classes because it raises important issues about memory, culture and identity.
Riv-Ellen Prell, Professor of American Studies
University of Minnesota

quoteAn engaging, thoughtful exploration of the problematic nature of memory and history connected to the Jewish Lower East Side. Lederman translates the themes in my book Lower East Side Memories&Mac226; into a dynamic film about collective memory and the iconization of a place into a sacred space. An excellent piece for teaching about immigrant and urban history.
Hasia Diner, Professor of American Jewish History
New York University

quoteIn this world unto itself-at least in memory and imagination-nostalgia is the breath of life that was the real community. This beautiful film moves deftly between memory and history to explore the inspirational power of an iconic neighborhood as seen through the eyes of octogenarians still living there, historians, historic preservationists, tour guides, and youngsters visiting the place where Jewishness once really mattered.
Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett
Professor of Performance Studies/Jewish Studies
New York University

quoteThe New Old Country offers a smart, fresh look at the complex puzzle called Jewish nostalgia. Full of delightful surprises and playful irony, the film is a must-see for all of us who long for the days of pickles and pushcarts. An excellent educational tool for teaching Jewish history and culture.
Sarah Gershman, Dean of Students
The Jewish Community High School of the Bay, San Francisco

AWARDS & SCREENINGS:

  • Rochester Jewish Film Festival
  • Eldridge Street Community Screening
  • National Council of Jewish Women Speaker Series

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Subject: Jewish Studies