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Russ and Daughters report

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Here's a write-up on Russ and Daughters with a little background info and thoughts on photography and the food.

Lots of pics on the blog: http://thecollegecritics.com/2011/03/...

In 1914, Joel Russ, a German Jewish immigrant opened his first store, selling Polish mushrooms, herring and salmon. Nearly one hundred years later, Joel’s shop still flourishes on the Lower East Side in New York City. Over time, this neighborhood’s demographic has changed multiple times, from the original Germans, to Yiddish speaking Jews, and more recently to Hispanic and Asian immigrants. Although the Jewish community has dwindled, its presence can still be felt through institutions like Russ and Daughters.

No one said anything when I took out my camera in the crowded shop, but I felt cowed nonetheless. I felt the reprimanding gazes of one hundred years worth of overbearing Jewish relatives, telling me to put away my newfangled toy and eat my fish. I shot some pictures anyway, but I did feel rather anachronistic with my digital camera, while walking among the various cream cheeses and traditional cuts of salmon.

Back in 1914, Joel Russ had sold his wares from a pushcart and a horse and wagon for several years before he could buy his shop. Here I was, walking around his family history with technology he had never dreamed of. I can barely even remember the period before digital cameras became mainstream, let alone remember a time before automobiles.

In Russ and Daughters, the digital photographs I took were insignificant next to the century of perfect fish sandwiches all around me. Everything about the Lower East Side had changed in a hundred years, while this shop had merely changed who worked the fish counter. I wondered how my photographs could possibly mean anything in comparison to that legacy.

Instead of mulling this problem over, I decided to spend more time eating my lox and bagel with cream cheese. Often eaten over brunch with relatives in my family, I thought I knew pretty much everything about how to spread some cream cheese on a bagel and slap some lox on there. How incorrect my youthful assumption was.

Sliced exquisitely thin, the salty lox practically melted on contact. Pure cream cheese liquefied and moistened the crunchy bagel underneath. Crisp tomato and fresh onion at last graced the scene, completing the symphony of flavors I thought I knew so well.

Just as Russ and Daughters shared an interpretation of its history in the form of a delicious sandwich, I hope to be able to share a personal view of my heritage through photographs. Although the digital image may not have much historical clout now, maybe in another century, someone will compare their images taken with the newest technology with mine. Maybe they will look through my eyes for a moment and feel historically inadequate. I hope they don’t linger on that feeling too long though, and enjoy their sandwich.

(On a side note, we also bought some delicious halvah, which can be made out of sesame seeds grounds into a paste and combined with sugar to make a dessert/snack

)

www.thecollegecritics.com

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Russ & Daughters
179 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002

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