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  • Feature Article

  • Rosh Hashana, Circa 1919

    By JOAN NATHAN for The New York Times



    Shiva Shapiro“SHALOM ALEICHEM!” Shiva Shapiro said in a heavy Yiddish accent to her visitors.

    As she deftly stuffed cabbage leaves with rice and stewed tomatoes, and displayed other dishes she has made on her 1900 Beauty Hub coal stove, Ms. Shapiro drew her guests into her life.

    “This is 1919,” she said. “Last year was the end of the influenza epidemic and the end of the war to end all wars. We’re a Jewish family and we’re keeping kosher in our home. I don’t read English, only Yiddish and Hebrew. My daughter Mollie learned about bananas at school. I think that bananas are mushy, but I take her to buy a hand of bananas for 25 cents.”

    Mrs. Shapiro is actually Barbara Ann Paster, one of the actors here at the Strawbery Banke restoration, a living museum in which over 350 years of Portsmouth homes, stores, churches and history have been preserved. It is in Puddle Dock, which was a decrepit neighborhood destined to be razed under urban renewal until a campaign in the 1950s and ’60s led by the town librarian saved 42 houses on 10 acres to create the museum.

    The area was first settled in 1623 by the English, who found a profusion of strawberries there. By the turn of the 20th century Italians, Irish, English, French-Canadians and East European Jews had come here to find work. Although most immigrants at that time settled in large cities, some settled directly in smaller towns like Portsmouth. By 1919, 152 Russian Jews made up about a quarter of the immigrant population of Puddle Dock and 18 of them were Shapiro relatives, according to the museum.

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