Last week our class visited the New York Tenement Museum on Orchard Street. It’s an amazing place where small apartments untouched for more than fifty years have been restored to how they looked at the turn of the previous century.
The specific tour we did followed a family of Jewish Russian immigrants who moved to New York and started a tailor business. This story really resonated with me, because that was my family’s story. My great grandfather moved to the United States in the first decade of the 20th Century and worked as a women’s tailor, just like the Levin family featured in the museum. One detail about the exhibit that stood out to me was that the elder son in the Levin family slept in a wash basin on the floor of his parents’ bedroom. One family story I heard was that my great uncle slept for a time in a dresser drawer. The experience encouraged me to ask my dad for some of the information about this early part of my family history. I thought I had the story down pat, but it’s amazing how stories you hear when you are seven years old can get corrupted in your mind over 20 years.
I also tried to think about the museum as a place of interactive narrative and learning. I found the tour guide’s rhetorical questions helped me to put myself in the space where these people lived. However, I wish there was just MORE. More content, more to explore, more to discover, more to learn.