The Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County in Glen Cove will open its doors to a new exhibit on Oct. 3 in the “Long Island Jewish History Museum” titled “Earning a Living: 300 Years of Jewish Businesses on Long Island.” The Long Island Jewish History Museum is a project of the Jewish Historical Society of Long Island.
“I’ve written two books on Long Island Jewish history,” Jewish Historical Society of Long Island founder Brad Kolodny said. “When I spoke to people whose parents, grandparents or even great-grandparents are from Long Island and are Jewish, they would say to me ‘I have these photographs, these documents, these items, but I don’t know what to do with them.’”
Using items given to the Jewish Historical Society or items that volunteers sifted through attics and garages to find, this exhibit has been created to tell the story of Jewish business presence on Long Island.
The exhibit, which is currently a main focus of the Jewish Historical Society of Long Island, focuses on 60 businesses including farmers, manufacturers and retailers. More than 100 artifacts are used to tell the story of Jewish business on Long Island.
“We divided the exhibit into four parts,” Kolodny said. “You have farming, manufacturing… miscellaneous or other occupations. And finally the largest part of the exhibit is retail.”
According to the exhibit, the population of Jewish people in Suffolk and Nassau Counties today exceeds 300,000 people, making Long Island the fourth largest Jewish community in the United States. While many Jewish people came to Long Island after World War II, many Jews have been calling Long Island their home for centuries. In fact, records suggest the first Jewish resident on Long Island may have been a man named Nathan Simson, who in 1720 became the president of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City.
“The biggest thing I try to tell people is that Long Island Jewish history goes back a lot farther than most people realize,” said Kolodny. “A lot of people feel, or think… that Jews moved to Long Island after World War II. But the fact of the matter is that there have been Jews on Long Island for 300 years. So many of them are represented here through the way that they made a living, through the ways they had to support their families. You have peddlers, you have merchants who owned jewelry stores and liquor stores and clothing stores.”
For example, the farming portion of the exhibit showed how Abe Katz followed in his Israeli father’s footsteps in becoming a dairy man, eventually purchasing Dune Alpin Farm in East Hampton in 1936. Antique tools are utilized in the exhibit to transfer visitors back to another time, including a 40-quart milk can from the Dune Alpin Farm.
“You have farmers that grew crops,” said Kolodny. “You had dairy farmers who had cows and produced milk. You had even a Jewish duck farmer.”
In the manufacturing section, a story is told how two factories; a rubber factory in Setauket and a watch case factory in Sag Harbor, ended up forming vibrant Jewish communities.
“Both of the factories employed a lot of Jewish workers,” Kolodny said. “And so, you had a couple dozen Jewish families who moved to those towns and formed their Jewish communities.”
In the miscellaneous portion of the exhibit, many different occupations were showcased. The first Jewish police officer in Glen Cove was named Isadore Goldstein.
“Here are some of the items I got from his family,” Kolodny said pointing to items under a glass case. “Here is the badge he wore on his police uniform. He actually ran for commissioner of public safety, and won.”
In the retail section of the exhibit, there was a menu from a restaurant in St. James.
“What’s interesting is that it was from 1942 and this menu had to be posted in the restaurant because it was during World War II” said Kolodny. “It was a ceiling price, meaning whatever the price was that was posted… you couldn’t charge more for that. It was a way to keep prices moderate while the war was going on.”
And speaking of history, Prohibition was also covered. There was a liquor store in Glen Cove owned by a man named Harry Brause that opened in 1912.
“But in 1920, Prohibition was enacted,” Kolodny said. “He could no longer sell alcohol. So he became a bootlegger and he still sold alcohol, but he did it illegally… As a matter of fact, when he had alcohol to sell, he sold it to the wealthy mansion owners off the Gold Coast. They would each go out the Hempstead Bay on boat and meet out by the ocean, so as not to be seen by police.”
Jewish business history on Long Island is the big piece of the story of Long Island’s development that most people miss, Kolodny said.
“You had Jewish merchants out East initially,” Kolodny said. “You have stories of individuals who helped the community grow, not just the Jewish community. They helped the community grow by having a store that had goods available and just making it a place that people want to live.”
And while Jewish people faced the challenge of antisemitism, history and the stories told through this exhibit proves they persevered.
“There are different stories of Jews not being allowed to join golf clubs and certain social clubs, things of that nature,” Kolodny said. “But as far as businesses, they seemed to persevere. And that’s an important take away, that while there may have been adversity and difficulty, the Jews have been able to maintain businesses and careers and be successful in the face of people who would rather not see us succeed.”
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 of Nassau County.
Long Island Jewish History Museum is a project of Jewish Historical Society of Long Island, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded in 2021 to honor and celebrate Jewish history in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Visit www.jhsli.org for more information.