They Buy Matzos from Gimbels and Macy’s: Passover in 1920s New York

Our “guest blogger from the past” is a 1920s reporter for the Jewish Daily Forward (the Forverts). By 1923, the article says, many assimilated Jews in New York City didn’t want neighbors to know they were Jewish, and so they began ordering Passover foods from department stores instead of Jewish small businesses.

Why? Well, a delivery boy in Lower East Side garb would have been a giveaway, but a Macy’s delivery van, they figured, was “neutral.” This is my (quick) translation from the original Yiddish.

The Forverts, March 29, 1923

They Buy Their Matzos from Gimbels and Macy’s Department Stores

Newly rich “all-rightniks” don’t want Christian neighbors to see East Side Jews delivering packages to them on Pesach.

The day before Pesach on the East Side and on Riverside Drive.

By a Forverts reporter

A 1929 Macy's Department Store ad for delivery of Passover foods.

Macy’s ad for Passover foods, from the April 18, 1929 issue of the New York Journal.

The day before Pesach is the real holiday for our young people. Even earlier, two weeks before Pesach, they are already skipping elementary school and high school. Most have to help their mothers prepare for the holiday at home, while others must help their fathers at the pushcarts or the stores, where business is so frantic you can never have enough staff to satisfy all the customers.

And at home, there is also plenty to do: kashering, scrubbing, cleaning, fetching down the Pesach dishes, hanging new curtains on the windows, lifting old oilcloths from the floors and laying down new ones; making new little outfits for the children, shopping for all the Pesach foods — Can you now begin to calculate how many tasks a Jewish housewife is bombarded with at home on the day before Pesach?

Is it any wonder, then, that the day before Pesach, Jewish children are as pleased as can be and love the holiday wholeheartedly, no less than they love their “Easter vacation” from school?

In addition, Jewish children collect quite a Continue reading

Three Orthodox Jewish folktales, recalled in the 1930s by Mr. S. A. Friedlander (born around 1868)

Goat peering around a wooden wall

Today’s “guest blogger from the past” is Joseph Vogel, an early 20th century Yiddish- and English-speaking writer. In the 1930s, while working for the Federal Writers Project (FWP), he sometimes wrote down folktales and memories he collected from Jews he met in various parts of New York City.

He collected the tales below from Mr. S. A. Friedlander, who was born around the late 1860s near Prostejov (then part of Hungary but now in the Czech Republic). Their conversation took place at the Madison Jewish Center in Brooklyn around 1937-38. Like many such tales, the first two teach that God will provide for our needs. Some readers may find the second story, “God Helps the Poor,” a bit grotesque.

FWP writers would sometimes add cultural clarifications to their folklife reports. Here, Vogel explains that the Maggid in one tale is a “Yiddish Billy Sunday” type (a reference to the then-famous Christian itinerant preacher). The original typescript of this document is in the Library of Congress. I have fixed obvious typos and changed the order in which the stories are presented.


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