Doris Roberts passed away today.
A veteran performer of the stage and screen, both big and small, Ms. Roberts is known to audiences of a certain age as the loving but meddling, Mrs. Bennet like Marie Barone in Everybody Loves Raymond.
While most women of her generation are willing to sit back and let what is left of their life pass by, Marie Barone lived life to the fullest. She was feisty, loving, sharp-tongued and maybe a little too much of a helicopter parent to her grown sons. But audiences loved her and responded to her every woman character.
Another role that she is remembered for is Mrs. Kavarsky in Hester Street, a film that depicted immigrant life in New York in the early 20th century. Her role of Mrs. Kavarsky was that of a woman who threw off the trapping of the old world and remade herself in the image a modern women in the early 20th century United States.
In 1975, the Lower East Side at the turn of the 20th century was a memory. That year, the movie Hester Street premiered and the memories of that world and the people who lived in that world became vivid and real.
In 1896, Jake (Steven Keats) is a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe who has remade himself into an American. He is excited when his wife, Gitl (Carol Kane) arrives with their young son. But his excitement dissipates quickly when he sees that his wife still clings to the old traditions. As the marriage begins to show signs of wear and tear, he turns to Mamie (Dorrie Kavanaugh), a dancer who has fallen in love with and has, like Jake assimilated into the American culture.
This movie is like a time machine. Through the lens of the characters, the viewer is taken to a world that does not exist anymore and whose denizens are long gone. It is in black and white, with subtitles (some of the actors having lines in both English and Yiddish). It is a story of the age old dance of staying true to your faith and culture versus assimilating into a new culture. The slow death that is Jake and Gitl’s marriage feels very authentic, like it could be replayed at any time and place when faced with the issue of immigration and the fear of assimilation.
I recommend this movie.
At first glance, New York City seems to always be on the cutting edge of modernity. Buildings made of steel, glass and concrete fill the skyline. It is the city of concrete dreams that Alicia Keys referred to in the song “Empire State Of Mind“.
But there is another New York City. One that is older, that represents previous generations who left the lands of their ancestors for the freedom and opportunity that the United States offers.
The Eldridge Street Synagogue and Museum on the Lower East Side is a marvel of architecture, hope and opportunity.
Built in the late 1880’s by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, they flocked to the Lower East Side and to this synagogue.
It has been renovated extensively over the past two decades.
Walking into the main sanctuary feels like time has stood still. It looks very much like it did to those immigrants who made this synagogue their second home. I felt like I was walking into Hester Street.
I recommend the Eldridge Street Synagogue and Museum for both tourists and locals.