Volume 80, Number 51 | May 19 - 25, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photo by Aline Reynolds

At the ribbon cutting for the new visitor center, from left, Laurie Tobias Cohen, benefactor Michael Pertain, state Senator Daniel Squadron, Councilmember Margaret Chin (back to camera), Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Borough President Scott Stringer and Rabbi Zvi Romm of Bialystoker Synagogue.

Conservancy is home at last

By Aline Reynolds

The Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy finally has a place to call home.

The nonprofit group now has an official visitor center that will host exhibitions and act as a meeting spot for the group’s walking tours of historic synagogues and other Lower Manhattan institutions.

The Kling & Niman Family Visitor Center, which officially opened on May 8, is located at 400 Grand St., between Clinton and Suffolk Sts., in the building that formerly housed the neighborhood institution Ruby’s Fruit Store.

Exhibits at the center will feature displays and videos outlining the history of the Lower East Side Jewish community, which dates back to the mid-17th century, when the first Jews arrived in New Amsterdam from Brazil. There are also artifacts, charts and other materials documenting the genealogy of the Klings and Nimans, two intertwined Jewish families that have some 6,000 discovered living and dead descendants around the world.

Since its inception in 1998, the L.E.S. Jewish Conservancy has lacked a bricks-and-mortar location — something Executive Director Laurie Tobias Cohen said the organization desperately needed.

“This organization has never had a public presence,” she said. “We’ve never had the ability to make ourselves known to the community, and to the touring public, in this kind of casual, spontaneous way.”

The center, Cohen continued, is intended to serve not just tourists but the local community.

“We’re not just a center that happens to be down here,” she said. “We strive to be part of the warp and woof of this neighborhood. We’re reaching out to individuals who we feel get our mission, and are soliciting ideas from them as to how we can accomplish this.”

The L.E.S. Jewish Conservancy offers a range of hours-long, multilingual tours around Lower Manhattan, principally focused on visits to nearby synagogues and led by fourth- or fifth-generation area Jews. The organization also provides a field-based immigrant education program for grade school-aged children from public schools around the tri-state region.

The visitors’ center is also planning a new, 90-minute walking tour for adults and teens featuring two local synagogues and an in-depth discussion about historic institutions throughout the Lower East Side.

Renovation of the 400 Grand St. space, including exhibition development and audiovisual production, amounted to nearly $100,000 in private and public sources. Brooklyn-based genealogist and benefactor Michael Pertain, who purchased the center’s naming rights, played a large role in fundraising for the facility, Cohen noted.

The Kling and Niman Family Visitor Center is open Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays, from 12 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.; and Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tickets for walking tours must be purchased in advance at www.nycjewishtours.org, or at the center. For more information, call the L.E.S. Jewish Conservancy at 212-374-4100.

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