|Location||Trip Time||Travel Type|
|New York||1 hour|
This driving tour is part of the New York Back Story tours developed by folklorists and cultural ethnographers who know you want to hear from local storytellers.
For more content, click the "Explore this Tour Remotely" button below.
Click here to see a transcript of this story.
Click here to hide the transcript of this story.
Narrator Kevin Rogan: Welcome to New York Back Story where you can hear stories about local traditions. The Jewish Food Festival at Congregation Kol Ami in Elmira is a culmination of months of preparation and lifetimes of cooking traditions. Community members have contributed recipes for chopped liver, chicken soup, kugel, mushroom barley soup, challah, babka, hamantaschen, mandelbrot, macaroons, latkes, blintzes, carrot salad and much more. Served to over 800 people who attend the event, held each spring since 2009, these foods pass on memories of Jewish kitchens to new generations and share them with the larger community. Sue Hesselson describes what it means to her to share these traditional foods with the wider public: "I think it's really a way to represent the Jewish Community. I think that's it. I feel pride in that. Pride that we share it with everybody. And that so many of the community supports it and comes. They come with lists, you know. I'll take three challahs and two babkas, and can I get six of this, and the soup, and the deli. It's like - It's so wonderful to see so many people. And it's really - when I can look up and really see people, and not just wrapping whatever- it's so nice to see friends in the community." I think it just brings the whole community together. Started in 2009 by members of the Sisterhoods of Congregation B'Nai Israel and Congregation Shomray Hadath, this food festival is a community event that surpasses its function as a fundraiser. It was a catalyst for the merger of the two Jewish congregations in Elmira, which were both declining in membership. Working together on the Food Festival, the sisterhoods found common ground, which helped them see a way forward for the Jewish community as whole" "We really saw that we really are for the same thing. And we really can work together beautifully. And although we have differences in philosophies or different things, we can come together. And that is definitely, definitely part of the strength that brought us together." Volunteers from the synagogue spend months planning and preparing the food for the event, filling freezers with challah and babka, and ordering pounds and pounds of kosher smoked meats to serve at the deli. The social hall of the synagogue is transformed into a scene from Hester Street on New York City's Lower East Side at the turn of the twentieth century. Attendees can purchase Jewish fare from a number of individual stalls, each run by its own dedicated crew, including a bakery, deli, soup, Israeli food, fish and dairy, and egg creams. Marcus Kantz describes that the foods featured at the Jewish food festival resonate with people's memories of what they ate at home, in their neighborhoods, with their grandparents. It is not fancy, but it is Jewish. "It's not special. It's typical household Jewish Food. It's not restaurant food. I mean the deli stuff looks like restaurant food. Because the delis make what you would have at home. For dinner you would have a corned beef sandwich, and they'd probably just make it much bigger than you would probably eat at home, but I'm sure some people probably would eat it that big. But yes, it is regular Jewish food." Not only is much of the food made from scratch by members of the community, but many of the recipes themselves are drawn from the repertoires, memories, and cookbooks of community members. Perfected by years of practice, handed down from one generation to the next, or taken from cookbooks or magazines and modified to suit individual tastes and situations, the recipes reproduced for the food festival represent the lived Jewish culinary experience of people at Congregation Kol Ami. Hear Lisa Goldberg make connections between people, dishes, and the cultural life of the community: "Every recipe is brought by some individual in the community. That's what's really special about the food festival, is that each of the foods that is prepared here comes from that individual's family tradition or memory. I think that's one of the things that makes this a cultural event that is kind of unique. For example, the chicken soup is Sue King's. She made chicken soup for the community seder for many, many, many years. And I remember volunteering when my boys were very young, and I couldn't be there for very long. And I remember her saying, "It's not your time yet. You should just go home and be with your family. We'll be doing this for years to come." And the mushroom barley soup was Lotta's, and she used to make it for people when they were sick. And for dinners. The chopped liver was Polly Levine's crown jewel. And she passed away, but she was in charge of it for many years. And now Sue Hesselson has been making it in her memory." Ready for more stories? Continue on the Elmira Backstory tour. This episode is funded by the NY State Council on the Arts and the Robert W Gardiner Foundation. This tour was curated by T.C. Owens of The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes. This story was produced by Maria Kennedy.
Click here to see a transcript of this story.
Click here to hide the transcript of this story.
Narrator: Welcome to Back Story where you can hear stories about local traditions. Named after Elmira College's president from 1987 - 2012, Thomas K. Meier, Meier Hall is a residence hall on Elmira College's campus. Completed in 2012, it was designed by QPK Designs and constructed by local company Welliver. Designed in a traditional collegiate gothic style, it is meant to match the other buildings on Elmira College's campus built in the late 1850s. Adorning the exterior are many limestone relief and three dimensional carvings completed by master stone carver Wayne Ferree, based out of Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania. Wayne describes how he started carving on the college's campus back in 1993. When I first came here, I met an architect at the University of Scranton and I got a few restoration jobs from him. I used to drive around with little sculptures I made in the back of my van. I'd go around and sell them to anyplace where I could think of that might want them: garden centers, architects. Well he had bought this piece and had it hanging on his wall and he had some other architects come in, picking his brain, they needed a stone carver for some buildings they were doing for Elmira College. He had this carving on his wall and he said, "I know a guy!" They contacted me and we went up to the college. I met with the President and his team, and I gave them some ideas and did some drawings, and plans. And I sold them. I got this contract to do the carvings on these buildings. They just kept using me and using me. Every few years I'd get a nice little contract from them. The last contract I had was with a residential hall called Meier Hall. Meyer being the name of the president. And that was really a great job. And my son helped me who was working with me at the time. That was from 1993-2011 or 2012. He was a special kind of man, the president. That was really fun because after the 20 years prior experience that he had with me, he just let me go. He showed me the spaces and said, "Do what you want." The parameters were to include the college logos which were the iris, the octagon and the golden eagle, those were the logos that they liked to use. As long as those symbols were incorporated in the design, we were good to go. The gargoyles were 3-dimensional, and there were other 3-dimensional things in some of the other buildings, which were actually going on at the same time. But it was mostly 2-dimensional, high relief, carved down like 3". I like to carve really deeply, especially on the architectural projects, because it really has to stand out on a building. Wayne's journey as a stone carver began when he was 22, working with pen knives and exacto knives on soap stone. After about a decade he bought his first hammer and chisel set from Sculpture House NYC. Shortly after, he and his wife moved East, where Wayne apprenticed under Vincent Palumbo at the National Cathedral in Washington DC, learning how to architectural limestone carving in a gothic style. Later, raising a family in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Wayne worked with Julius Tomasetti of Tomasetti Cut Stone in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Wayne discusses his experiences learning his craft: Excerpt 2: My wife and I were offered jobs out east. So we came out east and while I was out working this job which was terribly hard, really boring, locating cables for cable company, underground cables, my wife had heard about the Cathedral. They were hiring stone carving apprentices. So I went down and applied. About three or four months later I got the job. That's how I learned to carve on an architectural level: Gothic design, crockets, angels, gargoyles. It's a lot of fun. I didn't make much money. I would start at 7:00 in the morning. I would get up at a quarter to six, drive to the cathedral, take an hour from Virginia. I would carve from 7-3. Then I would run home, take a shower, then wait tables til 10 or 11 at night. I paid a lot of dues back then. I had a family to support. You do what you have to do. I picked it up right away. From the first day I was just going. I had already been doing it. And then I was given these power tools. I was like a kid in a candy store. All of a sudden I was able to produce stuff really fast. I had the whole 3D thing down. My understanding was from the time I was hired, the pay was commensurate to productivity, and I had a family to support, so I was in there going to town, producing the best work I could as fast as I could. And I was doing it. When Wayne isn't creating architectural sculptures, he makes statues, benches, moldings, entryways and more for homeowners. He describes what he considers when beginning a new project: Excerpt 3 I really like traditional things. Renaissance things that I kind of grew up with and aspired to. I also do modern design, but I tend to really like – Trained in Gothic at the cathedral, which is always intriguing to me, but I like to do things that are easy to look at. It all depends on what the situation is, what the application is, what the site looks like, what the client wants. And then I just use my design skills to make something that makes them happy and pleases me. There has to be enthusiasm. It's a creative process. In order to do it well, you've got to be into it. For more information about Wayne Ferree's stone carving work www.ferreestudios.com Ready for more stories? Continue on the Elmira BackStory tour. This tour was funded by the NY State Council on the Arts and the Robert Gardiner Foundation. The tour was curated by TC Owens of The Arts Council of the Southern Finger Lakes.