Although the Jewish Museum has their own extraordinary gift shop, right next door there is Celebrations. Opened in 1997, this is a store where customers can peruse a collection of high quality Judaica and select mezuzzahs, kiddish cups, dreidels, and many other sacred items. Having purchased many wedding, Bar and Bat Mitzvah, and other special occasion items here, I was quite familiar with this amazing place. Spending time with Carol Ullman and Stacey Zaleski, two lovely women who run the shop, made my appreciation for the exquisite selection that much greater. Celebrations recognizes the work of artists from other countries as well as from right here in the city. Sage Reynolds is a New York artist whose hand-made designs sit next to a glass case that displays silver objects from Israel. Included in the collection were a few items made from stainless steel metal lace, which Carol accurately described as, “Very pretty and very unusual. ” The selection runs from traditional, such as tallit made on a hand loom by Israeli women, to colorful and modern, like a large orange seder plate. The two women explained that there are no specific guidelines for the Judaica that Celebrations sells, except that it is "Good quality, good level of design, and clear function. ”Included in their innovative inventory are colorful glasses to break at a Jewish wedding ceremony and historic ketubahs from the museum’s exhibits, with the text removed. “This is a go-to place for couples to come, ” Stacey said, to which Carol added, “Sunday is always a busy ketubah day. ”Ketubahs are not the only items in Celebrations that imitate pieces from the Jewish Museum. There are also reproductions of silver pieces from the museum’s collection, which have proven popular with the shop's customers. As for more modern designers, Alessi is always a big seller. There are also some stunning pieces from Ludwig Wolpert, who is considered the “father of modern Judaica” and who had a workshop in the Jewish Museum in the middle of the twentieth century. In the central case I discovered “Forgotten Judaica, ” a company based in Rhode Island that creates folk art-inspired items decorated with squirrels and other common animals. Possibly the most touching collection that the two women pointed out were the mezuzahs from Mi Polin, which translates to “From Poland. ” They are the only Polish Judaica designers that Stacey is aware of, and each of their pieces is steeped in history. This company locates mezuzahs from houses that were destroyed during World War II and then creates bronze casts of them. Each one has an address on the side, explaining where it was found. When a customer purchases one of these, they receive a story explaining its origin. “A lot of the pieces in here have a story, whether they’re one-of-a-kind or handmade or artisan, " Stacey shared. And Celebrations allows customers to take the time to explore, examine, and hear the stories behind each work of art. “It’s an intimate place to shop, ” Stacey pointed out, noting that the pace of the Judaica store is a lot slower than that of the main museum gift shop. With its personal attention to shoppers and willingness to create custom items, Celebrations has become a favorite location for generations of families. As Stacey said, “We create long-lasting friendships with customers. It’s a family affair. ”
The Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum first opened in 1897 thanks to three of Peter Cooper’s granddaughters: Amy, Eleanor, and Sarah. Their grandfather was an industrialist who founded The Cooper Union, a renowned art school. The museum was created as part of the Cooper Union and officially became a branch of the Smithsonian Museum in 1967. As for the building that houses the exhibitions, it was originally Andrew Carnegie’s mansion. Today, it is known for being the only museum in the country devoted to educating the public about both historic and contemporary design. There is also an entrance to the museum through the garden on East 90th Street.
Bluestone Lane Coffee has proven itself adept at nestling into existing places around the city. I first encountered the Australian-style brand on 43rd Street, where they have made a home in Grace Plaza Pavilion. Their Upper East Side café has a unique design, since it is part of the Church of the Heavenly Rest building and has been crafted from an old chapel. The gothic architecture is a fascinating juxtaposition to the quinoa salads, avocado mash, and other healthy, modern items on the progressive café’s menu. The spot also offers table service, both for its indoor customers and those who choose to gaze out at Central Park from the sunny seating outdoors.
The story of the Church of the Heavenly Rest begins in 1865 when Dr. Robert Shaw Howland led the first services on 42nd Street. In 1868, the congregation was officially named the Church of the Heavenly Rest and construction began on a new church on Fifth Avenue near Grand Central Station. By the early twentieth century, the area had grown into a bustling business district and the congregation started looking to make the move to a more residential neighborhood where they would not have to compete with as many midtown places of worship. In 1924, Andrew Carnegie’s widow sold the church a plot of land across the street from her new home (now the Cooper Hewitt Museum). This is where Heavenly Rest built its now-landmarked sanctuary. I learned from Marion Morey, a parishioner who volunteers to greet visitors to the Episcopalian church (“We’re like the Catholics, but different, ” Marion tells each person who enters), that it is thanks to Mrs. Carnegie that the landmarked building looks the way it does. “She didn’t want the church to build a steeple, because it would cast a shadow on her lawn, ” she said with an amused smirk. In addition to the lack of steeple, the church is unique in that it embraced the Art Deco style that dominated skyscrapers at the time it was built. Marion pointed out that the sanctuary uses both Gothic and Art Deco designs in a seamless blend of aesthetics. She is especially fond of the cross behind the altar, which appears flush with the background at the bottom, but rises up and out towards the viewer near the top. “It means a lot to me, ” she said, elaborating on the themes of resurrection and rebirth that the church embraces. Marion also spoke to me about the fleur de lis designs in the chapel and the International School that is part of the church (“It’s a very good school, ” she commented, approvingly). I found it interesting to learn that the church serves as a women’s shelter, one of the few in the city. Ten women are invited to sleep in the sanctuary every Monday through Wednesday, with volunteer parishioners looking after them. When I visited in the spring of 2016, Marion was excited to announce that the church was undergoing some construction, adding a kitchen, elevator, and new bathrooms in the coming months. “We are building our own congregational space, ” she explained. Marion went on to say that there would soon be meeting rooms: before the construction project, the only place for church officials to meet has been the sanctuary, often in the choir stalls. Despite the changes and expansions that the church will undergo, Marion stressed that they will continue “to run like a very humble church. ” It was heart-warming to speak to someone who obviously had so much love for this house of worship. She told me in a low voice, “In the middle of the night, it’s extraordinary. It’s filled with so much spirit. ”
In 1904, the Jewish Museum was founded in the Jewish Theological Seminary’s library, making it the oldest Jewish museum still in existence. It was not until 1944 that the museum moved from its original location to a mansion donated by Frieda Schiff Warburg, widow to philanthropist Felix Warburg, on Fifth Avenue and 92nd Street. Officially opened in 1947, the former Warburg mansion has had an important presence on Museum Mile ever since. The museum’s permanent collection was initiated with just twenty-six pieces of ceremonial art donated by Judge Mayer Sulzberger, and has grown to become one of the largest of its kind with almost 30, 000 works to date. Titled “Culture and Continuity: The Jewish Journey, ” this collection narrates the evolution of Jewish culture from biblical ages to present day, a journey catalyzed by the efforts of Jews to uphold their identity when faced with adversity. Paintings, sculptures, photographs, and videos are just some of the forms of artistic expression employed to capture the physical and emotional experience. In 1981, the museum established the National Jewish Archive of Broadcasting, and the New York Jewish Film Festival made its debut in 1992, a collaboration with the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Today, the museum also includes a sculpture garden as well as the Albert A. List building, which is used for additional exhibition space. The Cooper Shop, located in the lobby of the museum, sells a variety of pieces that connect with the museum’s exhibitions including decorative objects, books, jewelry, and even reproductions of some of the artwork. Though most of the rare Judaica and high-quality pieces are found next door at Celebrations, the Cooper shop also sells select housewares and ceremonial items. In 2016, Russ & Daughters opened a location inside the Jewish Museum with an entirely kosher menu. The fourth-generation, family-owned restaurant has been on Houston Street since 1914 when Joel Russ, a Jewish immigrant from Southern Poland decided to open a fish shop. It is most recognized for its world-famous smoked salmon. This is just one more reason to visit the beloved and historic museum.