Food That Continues To Nourish Our Souls
Ken Levitt, President of JSA, welcomed the crowd with a GROISEHN DAHNK and a TODAH RABBAH. Michael Schwartz, Coordinator of Programs and Development of the Jewish Museum of BC, a partner of the 4 JSA Empowerment sessions affirmed the important role which food played in keeping traditions alive for future generations.
Stan Goldman, on behalf of JCC Seniors, introduced today’s film as the story of 4 generations of New Yorkers in the appetizer-shop business, selling smoked fish, lox, herring and sturgeon. He had tasted smoked fish there for the very first time.
Julie Cohen first discovered the famed fish store in 2007. Upon realizing that the sisters Hattie and Anne were still alive, she flew down to Florida to interview them. This is a documentary about the start of the appetizer shop which their father founded almost 100 years ago. Joe Russ cane to New York at age 21 and used a push cart to sell his herring. He went on to sell from a horse and wagon in 1917, and finally opened the shop in 1920. He enlisted his daughters to help him—one, age 12 the other 14. In time the girls became full- time workers and eventually his partners. Russ even added “and Daughters” to the name of the shop – which was a first then. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court) stated that even though she was not a feminist, this move made her very happy, seeing this was an enterprise where daughters counted.
When immigrants first arrived in this area of New York, fish is what they ate. It was cheap as they struggled to make their way. Now, it is eaten because it connects you to your ancestors and because it is an ’emotion food’ which goes beyond its delicious taste and links you to your past.
Nicki Russ Federman, who runs the establishment now, along with Josh Russ Tupper, said that there was never anything glamourous then – just hard work. However, Hattie and Anne had set the stage for their grandchildren to thrive and for future generations to kvell. Molly Picon, Zero Mostel and Morley Safer are just a few of the famous who have come to their shop.
Nicki Russ Federman and Joshua Russ Tupper both had other professions. Both of them decided, after almost a decade away, to make sure that ‘Russ and Daughters’ continued to thrive. Herman Vargas, a Dominican, has been with the shop for 26 years, having learned to speak Yiddish many years ago and feels part of the family. New Yorkers feel that they are connected to a living piece of New York history, part of which was narrated by several seniors gathered around a table telling the viewer the story of the shop.
100 years – 4 Generations, 1,800,000 lbs of pickled herring! Russ Federman said: “It was powerful to watch the expression on my grandmother’s face as she watched the movie – she was watching her life affirmed.” Today, as the audience watched, we, too, could feel the love of family traditions and the importance food can play in connecting one another.
Shanie Levin of the JSA asked the members of the audience if the film had been enjoyed. She was greeted by a huge round of appreciative applause. Comments overheard over refreshments were: ‘It warmed my heart!’ ‘It made me happy to be Jewish.’ As Hattie at the end of the film said, after she and Anne had finished singing ‘Sunrise, Sunset’ from ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, “We are ‘Shepping Nachas’!” And I must admit, so were we!