Preservation Magazine, Fall 2020

A Ceramic Tureen Brings Back Mealtime Memories at New York's Tenement Museum

A ceramic tureen at the Tenement Museum.

photo by: Mo Daoud

In 1901 Abraham and Fanny Rogarshevsky left Lithuania and joined the throngs of Eastern European immigrants who sailed to the tip of New York City’s Manhattan Island to start a new life. By 1908 the couple and their six children moved to a building on the Lower East Side that now houses the Tenement Museum, which has re-created the family’s three-room apartment. On the kitchen table sits a white ceramic tureen with dainty floral motifs. As charming as it is simple—it has no special provenance—this everyday object tells the story of how an immigrant family held on to their old life amid a new one.

To keep kosher, Fanny had two sets of dishes, one for dairy and one for meat. The latter included this tureen. She used it to serve the traditional Sabbath meal of cholent, a stew of meat cuts, barley, and beans. The Sabbath, from Friday sunset to Saturday evening, is devoted to rest and prohibits work, so practicing Jews like the Rogarshevkys observed it by refraining from activities such as lighting a stove. Fanny made cholent on Fridays before sundown and left it on a low flame so the family could eat a hot meal during the Sabbath without breaking any rules.

After Abraham died of tuberculosis in 1918, Fanny began working as the building’s janitor. Still, according to family oral histories, she found the time to continue making cholent. The prized dish was passed down through the generations, a constant reminder of their roots. A great-granddaughter donated it to the Tenement Museum in 2010.

Amy Sutherland is a writer and journalist based in Charlestown, Mass. She writes the "Bibliophiles" column for The Boston Globe's Sunday Books section, and is the author of four books.

Looking for a meaningful way to support the historic local eateries you love? Take it beyond takeout and nominate your favorite spots for a Backing Historic Small Restaurants grant.

Learn More