An exhibition highlighting the careers of Long Island's Jewish population, from early 20th century farmers and tailors to modern bagel store owners and retailers, will go on display at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County in Glen Cove next month.
The display, titled “Earning A Living: 300 Years of Jewish Businesses on Long Island,” profiles the careers of 60 Jewish-run businesses and features more than 100 original artifacts, including a giant ice-cutting blade dating to the late-1800s, a neon sign that hung outside Lang's Shoe Store in Amityville and a copy of a handwritten letter from Albert Einstein to David Rothman, the owner of Rothman's Department Store in Southold.
The temporary exhibition opens to the public on Oct. 3 and is part of the new Long Island Jewish History Museum, which will make its home at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center.
Brad Kolodny, president of Jewish Historical Society of Long Island that created the museum, took Newsday on a tour of the self-guided exhibition last week, only days before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.
WHAT TO KNOW
- An exhibition highlighting the careers of Long Island's Jewish population will go on display at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County in Glen Cove next month.
- The display profiles the careers of 60 Jewish-run businesses and features more than 100 original artifacts.
- The temporary exhibition opens to the public on Oct. 3 and is part of the new Long Island Jewish History Museum at the center.
"Long Island Jewish history … has been overlooked for a very long time," Kolodny said. "And for the first time, we are so proud to present an exhibit that shows the Jewish community on Long Island has existed for literally over 300 years."
Long Island's population of 300,000 Jews ranks fourth nationwide, behind New York City, Los Angeles and southern Florida, Kolodny said.
And while historical records have documented the growth of the Jewish population in parts of Nassau and Suffolk counties after World War II as modern suburbia took shape, less attention has focused on settlers in the region dating to the early 1700s. Nathan Simson, a Brookhaven shopkeeper, is the first known Jew to settle on Long Island, in 1705, Kolodny said.
"I'm excited for Jews to discover their history on Long Island," said Steven Kantorowitz, who sits on the board of the Historical Society. "We need to keep a record of Jewish businesses and Jewish people on Long Island. We have a very vast and expansive history here."
In the early 1900s, a number of Jewish farmers settled on Long Island's East End, including a Holtsville cattle dealer, a Center Moriches duck farmer and a family-run dairy farm in East Hampton.
Eventually, many Long Island Jews transitioned to manufacturing, which is a central focus of the exhibition, including a late-19th century ice harvesting operation in Amityville, an East Northport sauerkraut factory and a rubber company based in Setauket.
Sprinkled throughout the exhibition are artifacts, including a citizenship document from 1875, donated by the descendants of the businesses' original owners.
They also include a sewing machine from 1910 that has been used by four generations of the Cohn family at the Amityville Men's Shop, a tailor that has been in business for more than a century; a stock certificate from Rothman Pickle Products in East Northport; equipment used by Dr. Sam Teich, a Jewish doctor in Huntington Station, gear used by the first Jewish police officer in Glen Cove, and a picture of a Wetson's, Long Island's first fast food franchise.
The exhibition also features some of the personalities that helped shape an era on Long Island.
There is Harry Brause, a liquor store owner from Glen Cove who started a successful bootlegging operation out of Hempstead Harbor during Prohibition.
Also highlighted is George Morton Levy, a lawyer in Freeport — the South Shore community had one of the region's largest Jewish populations — who founded Roosevelt Raceway in Westbury and revised the flagging sport of harness racing.
Another section is devoted to the unique relationship that developed in the summer of 1939 between Einstein and department store owner Rothman.
"Einstein came in to buy a pair of sandals," Kolodny said. "After conversing for a few minutes, they struck up a relationship and discovered that they both enjoyed playing the violin. And they actually played in a quartet that summer."
While most of the businesses featured in the exhibition are long gone, a few more modern companies highlighted at the museum remain, including the popular Bagel Boss franchise and Fortunoff, arguably the most recognizable modern Jewish-owned business on the Island. A photograph of the 1964 ribbon-cutting at the opening of Fortunoff in Westbury, which has since closed, hangs in the museum.
Andrea Bolender, chairwoman of the board at the Memorial and Tolerance Center, said successful Long Island Jewish businesses played a role in helping Holocaust survivors integrate into the region after the war.
"They were able to start these businesses and become prosperous," said Bolender, whose father, a Long Island butcher, was a Holocaust survivor. "And a lot of those people were the ones who sponsored the displaced persons afterward."
Admission to the Long Island Jewish History Museum is free and is covered under the suggested donation to enter the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center.