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Posted on on December 3rd, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

The Internet says about Russ and Daughters:

Mark Russ Federman is third generation – counting from grandfather Joel who located in the Lower East Side, Manhattan Island in 1907.

On March 5, 2013, the Publishers Schocken Books, a Division of Random House, Inc. will release the volume by Mark titled: “Russ & Daughters – Reflections and Recipes From The House That Herring Built.” We wonder if the cover page will carry the picture of the front of the store at 179 East Houston Street, New York, NY 10002, or the picture of a Bagel with Salmon-Lux and Cream Cheese with onion. The latter is depicted on the publication-date advertisement, and it would be a pity to have there the Royal Lux rather then the more plebeian Herring.

Then – please remember – 2014 will be the centennial year to the fabled Herring store.


These last few weeks, many things sort off created a nostalgic atmosphere that came together in the Yiddish term – A GOLDENE MEDINE or the GOLDEN LAND and I was left wondering which land was this indeed? And here came to my attention that THE NATIONAL YIDDISH THEATER – the New York Folksbiene – will present the end of the run of THE GOLDEN LAND – A musical in English and Yiddish – Created by Zalmen Mlotek & Moishe Rosenfeld – Directed by the famed Bryna Wasserman of the Montreal Theater family.

The added attraction for the 2 PM show on Sunday December 2nd, 2012, was a COFFEE & CONVERSATION with Mark Russ Federman of the famed – nearly one hundred years old – Russ & Daughters Herring Mecca in the heart of the Manhattan Lower East Side – a store that has survived the changes in its neighborhood like the anchor of the ship that transported close to two million European Jews to their first Golden shores.

Talking about Russ & Daughters will embrace 100 years of development of the Jewish Community in America, and as the geopolitics have proven lately as well – steps that led to the other ongoing Golden Land of the 19th to 21st centuries in Jewish history – the strengthening of the Community in Israel.


A Concise Russ Family History:

1985 – Joel Russ is born in Strzyzow (Strizev in Yiddish) – a rural town (Stetl) in Austro-Hungary’s Galizia. After WWI the place became part of Southern Poland.

1907 – Joe, at twelve, gets to America following an older sister – the usual story – first Ellis Island then Lower East Side (LES). He starts out by selling strings of polish mushrooms that he carries on his shoulders. He saves money to purchase a push cart and then a horse and wagon. He marries another immigrant from Galizia in 1908 at 13. They have three daughters – Hattie, Anne, and Ida. Hattie, the oldest, is born in 1913.

1914 Joel Ross opens up his first store on Orchard Street, just bellow East Huston and includes in his wares salt cured Herring and Salmon. The daughters start working in the store when they reach 11 years of age.

1920 – Joel Russ moves his store around the corner to 179 East Houston Street and renames it – perhaps with some Chutzpah – “J. Russ National Appetizing Store.”

1932 – the start of the Depression and Joel Russ sells the home they bought in Brooklyn and they return to live in cramped quarters on East 4th Street in Manhattan – but hangs on to the store.

1933 – He renames the company to Russ and Daughters, and it is believed to be the first American business to have the word DAUGHTERS in its name.

The sons-in-law work in the family business, and Mark Russ Federman (a third generation Russ) returns to the business with his wife, after 9 years of practicing law.

In 1976 and 1980, two recent young immigrants from the Dominican republic – Jose Reyes and Herman Vargas, join as employees. They learn Yiddish from the clients  and eventually Herman ends up managing the store. Mark does not speak Yiddish, though in grandfather Joel’s home only Yiddish was spoken.

2000 – The Smithsonian Institute designates Russ & Daughters “a part of New York’s Cultural Heritage.” The former tenement building where it’s housed, which in the meantime was bought by the Russ family from Mrs. Franks, the original German lady that owned it, is placed onto the National Register for Historic Places.

2002 – Fourth generation Russ, Joshua Russ Tupper, leaves his career as a chemical engineer and enters the family business, joined in 2006 by Mark’s daughter – Niki Russ Federman.


The National Yiddish Theater is located in the building of the William and Anita Newman Vertical Campus at the Baruch College (that is the City University College located on Bernard Baruch Way on East 25th Street in Manhattan between Lexington and Park Avenues). Mr. Newman, his brother, both his parents, and many of his eventual partners graduated from this college that allowed them to develop great careers having immigrated to America from East Europe and landed in the Lower East Side (LES) with nothing else then the will to succeed.The Newmans back New York City University so next waves of immigrants can progress as well.


The ship arrives – the passengers are enchanted – “Here she is – how beautiful! a Golden Home!”

Oh Ellis Island! The interrogations and a new name some pick for themselves. The old joke – the newcomer trains himself to say Izzie Jacobs0n but mumbles “Shoin Vergesen” and ends up getting registered as Sean Ferguson.

Life’s a Pretzel – Gold is in the Street – it’s fool’s gold.

“A Brievele der Mamen” – a letter to mother – but what should I write?

March 25, 1911 – a day of horror in Washington Square – a fire in a sweatshop – so many innocent working girls burned – trapped to die in the Triangle Company fire. In the follow up the red flag is unfurled with a cry for justice. The trumpets and saxophones from the orchestra march on stage – the conscience of the new America is awakened. The Jewish immigrants fight for the better America.


Surkie becomes Sadie – a regular Yankie – American citizen. {will something like this happen to the Hispanic immigrants of today?} The former Izzie Jacobson becomes now – “they call me C.D. Allen” – that is he lived on Allen Street corner of Delancey and he remembers this for its positives.

The social element sings – Fifty-Fifty as the Astors will have to learn to share their wealth. New wealth appears – Louis B. Mayer in Holywood and radio WEVD provides lessons on the air.

The Depression – President Hoover says don’t panic – they tell us it will be well but do not say when. Not just we – it is half the Nation that is asking for an explanation. Brother can you spare a dime? We lost our store but the faith in God we have not lost. We will survive.

Yesterday I had a dream for you and me. I dreamed about life for you and me and children – yes – children! A beautiful dream, and education, as we did not have. As long as you have me and I have you.

Clouds appear in Europe – My Little Town Belz, and the Germans crossed the Polish border. It should not happen to our dogs what happened to me.

The Bnei Brith ask for 20,000 visas for the US and are told that it will be taken into consideration.

Dozens of Jews have disappeared in Bucarest – Rumania, Rumania – a Pastramale, a Carnatzale ….

We have no contact with our families – Save European Jews! Please Help! Warshaw – Kiew – Kishinew …

We liberated Camp Dachau – it is hard to put this in words.


America Hurra!

Due to demand – the show will continue for another two more weeks.


Above is in narrative the sequence of well known songs strung out so they tell a complete story.

Did it mean that we moved from one Golden Land to see the creation of an additional one?


Back to Mr. Mark Russ Federman son of Ida Russ and third generation of American Russ proprietors of the American Herring National treasure.

In his presentation before The Golden Land performance:

Jews love their food – that he learned in his interaction with the clients – Mazaleh, Pastramaleh, Mamaliga – it is all in the songs. The monuments still left in the LES area – the Schimmel Knishery, Katz Delicatessen, and Russ & Daughters – all on East Houston Street.

Joel Russ worked in his store seven days a week – no closed Saturdays or Holidays. They spoke only Yiddish at home but kept no religious laws – it was not a Kosher-abiding place and the sturgeon is not a Kosher fish. Joel Russ left the religion on Ellis Island. By 1940 their business was known as the best place for fish in New York. Mark said about himself that he feels best with a knife in his hand behind the counter. He put on a white gown he used in the store.

He regards his heritage as high pedigree – “Jiches” of his business of fish – Smoked, Pickled or Cured. The customers those days knew to shop and demanded quality. On his part – he learned to sell. He instituted numbers on index cards in order to know whom to serve and found it hard to give a number to an old customer. He described the shopping experience as something between making love and war. He had a story about a Mrs. Manny that had to pick her herrings directly from the barrels in the back-room. Zero – that is the actor Zero Mostel used to come to the store. Once Ronald Lauder came with the chauffeured limousine to get the treats. Now the customers are international – even Chinese and Japanese. The Jiches of Russ is like that of Top Rabbis or Doctors.

Some of the fish are different. The butter-fish is no more – it became too high priced because of the Chinese and Japanese buying it up. The sable fish is also not sold by their store anymore – it belongs to the Japanese. At one time or another 1.5 million Jewish immigrants passed through LES. Now sometimes young descendants make a point of moving into 5-6 floor walk-up apartments there. Many new and expensive buildings with concierge have popped up – clubs and hotels. The linen shops of Grant Street are replaced by Chinese shops and fish shops.

The parents always worked hard and wanted their children to work less hard – that is how Mark studied law and Joshua chemical engineering – but low and behold – they ended up coming back to the fish store. The book will be a story about “Parnusa” – that is about making a living in the Golden Land.

After the show I walked up a couple of blocs on Lexington Avenue to the row of South-Indian Kosher vegetarian restaurants, and ate at Madras Mahal.

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