As the 2nd generation born on the Lower East Side, the first 13 years of Paul’s life were spent at the Vladeck Houses, moving with his family to the Seward Park Housing Co-ops when they opened in 1960. After graduating from Queens College in 1969, he returned to The LES to teach at I.S. #56, the same junior high school that he attended. Paul also worked at DIAL-A-TEACHER (a NYC teacher “help” hotline) as well as a one-year stint as a mentor in a Harlem middle school. After 32 years teaching at #56, he retired and worked for Gruss Life Monument Funds, which furthers science & math education in Jewish Day Schools & Yeshivas.
At the end of the academic year 2009, Paul was happy to be retiring for good!
An excellent photographer whose work, showcases in black & white the LES of the late 70’s & early 80’s, he has exhibited at the Camera Club of New York, as well as winning a 1st place ribbon at the Brooklyn Heights outdoor art show. Hoping to get back to more photography as well as having his murder-mystery novel, “Prediction of Death” published is what keeps his days busy.
Paul is proud that his daughter is the 3rd generation born on the LES, now one of the hottest neighborhoods in Manhattan!
As one of the original guides trained by Joyce Mendelsohn, Paul really enjoys sharing his home area, which he loves, with visitors. He is married to Lori, the Director of Touring.
Since his arrival in New York in the 1980’s, Barry has been a huge lover of the Lower East Side. Having grown up in South Africa, he found the community of the LES to resemble the old Jewish areas of Johannesburg, and immediately took to spending a great deal of time exploring, connecting and preserving the unique "little" corner of this great Jewish city.
Studying for a MA degree in American Jewish history at Brandeis University, Barry quickly became an avid fan of the history, culture and demography of the Jewish communal experience of the LES, and has for the last 10 years been thrilled to be a part of the LESJC as a local tour guide. He loves sharing the special and diverse character of the neighborhood with all the different age groups that join his tours, from young school kids and teenagers to older adults.
More recently Barry has also set up his own private company that offers customized tours of "Jewish New York” throughout the rest of the city.
A true Urban Historian, with a voluminous knowledge of the area, Elissa recently earned her doctorate, writing a dissertation on the history of the Tenement Museum. She is a big supporter and member of the Siempre Verde Community Garden on Stanton Street. In addition, she has been very active with the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition, and has helped initiate a public honoring of those who died in the fire with a Yahrtzeit Kiddush (remembrance prayer) at the Stanton Street Shul.
Elissa continues to be deeply concerned with preserving tangible evidence of the Jewish heritage of the Lower East Side through landmark designation. Her scholarly, impassioned and persuasive testimony at public hearings at the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, in support of landmark designation for the Bialystoker Home and Center and the Seward Park branch of the NYC Public Library, led to unanimous votes for landmarking to preserve and protect those historic buildings. In addition, she is a strong supporter of landmark designation for a Lower East Side Historic District. She was also very active in the campaign to save the Mezericher Shul on 6th Street.
As a Conservancy guide, she imparts her wealth of knowledge to hundreds of people who have had the opportunity to take one of her tours, that truly take people off the 'beaten path' in their search for the authentic LES. People leave her tours feeling like they now have a personal stake in the future of our iconic, historic neighborhood.
Because of her passion, in 2017, as a part of Lower East Side History Month, she won an award as a local community hero.
For the past seven years, Pessie has been giving tours for the Conservancy to groups from all over the world, from second graders all the way up to seniors, in private tours as small as 2 and in groups as large as one hundred - in Hebrew and English.
Pessie says she has learnt a lot from the stories that the participants on her tours have shared, and she really loves sharing her own personal stories of growing up on the Lower East Side. Some people come back to reminisce, and then we talk about what it was like in their day and I tell them about my Mother's experiences of growing up here . "On my tours, I try to convey the struggles of the newcomers who came during the great wave of emigration starting in 1881. I am their voice and I try my best to bring to life their hopes, struggles, and self sacrifice in a foreign land."
Lori Weissman - Director of Touring
Dr. Sharon Keller is a native New Yorker and a very popular teacher and lecturer in the New York Tri-State area. She set her sights on a PhD in Bible and Egyptology when she was in the 6th grade and steadfastly worked toward that earning her doctorate at NYU in the Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies in the area of Bible and the Ancient Near East. On her way to earning her doctorate Sharon earned Masters degrees in Hebrew Education (NYU), Jewish Communal Service (JTS), and Social Work (Columbia University).
Sharon’s scholarly work runs the gamut from examining the minutia of the biblical text to broader issues in Art and Archaeology. She has written and edited several academic books and articles most of which relate to the interplay between biblical Israel and ancient Egypt. Her most popular book, Jews: A Treasury of Art and Literature was awarded the National Jewish Book Award.
Her adult education courses and lecture series in the New York area are always a big draw and she is known for the enthusiasm and humor that she brings to her talks which make otherwise esoteric subjects easily accessible.
Lori Weissman, unlike her husband Paul (another guide with the LESJC), is not from the LES, but is pleased to have married into the neighborhood and is happy to now call it home.
Growing up in Huntington Station on Long Island, Lori went to The State University of New York, College at Oswego. After graduation in 1979, she moved to Manhattan residing on the Upper East Side. For 9 years she was employed by Syntex Laboratories, as a pharmaceutical representative specializing in hospital sales. After the birth of her daughter, Alanna in 1992, Lori became a stay-at-home mom for 13 years. Except for 4 summers as the office manager at Camp Eagle Hill, where Alanna was a camper, her re-introduction to the work force occurred in 2003, when she became one of the original guides trained by historian Joyce Mendelsohn.
Thrilled with a new insight and knowledge of her adopted home, Lori loved giving tours, and was extremely proud of the rich history right at her doorstep. The Conservancy made her more than just a guide by hiring her as the Coordinator of Marketing in 2006, and in 2008 became the Director of Touring
She always brags about how she only walks around the block to go to work. Now that is what we would all agree is a wonderful commute!
Suellyn Friedel Ben-Zvi is a third generation Lower East Sider, with multifaceted life experiences, both in this iconic neighborhood, as well as more than 30 years in Israel, and back…
Suellyn’s education began at Beth Jacob girls’ yeshiva on East Broadway, then on to Seward Park High School (SPHS), and CCNY. She taught English at SPHS, her alma mater and Eilat College in Israel, where she lived and raised her family. Back in New York, matrix of the American Jewish experience, with identity fulfillment in Israel, Suellyn’s perspective on Jewish geography is unique and personal.
Along with a wealth of information, Suellyn brings to her tours affectionate memories, anecdotes, and appreciation for her Lower East Side upbringing, which included Friday night services sitting beside (until bat mitzvah) her Zeydie, who was one of a multitude of turn of the century Jewish immigrants to the Lower East Side --from Bialystok!
Holding a masters degree in History, specializing in history of the ancient world, Svetlana is a professional tour guide that has worked on three continents.
Growing up in Russia, she then emigrated to Israel where she worked as a licensed tour guide for 11 years. Fourteen years ago she came to the United States and is currently working as a docent at the Museum at Eldridge Street as well as a guide for the LESJC. She has great interest in all aspects of Jewish history, ancient and modern.
Svetlana's passion for Jewish history, art, music, cuisine is reflected in her tours. She is fluent in three languages (Russian, Hebrew and English).
A lifetime New Yorker, Marty was formerly an educator and administrator in the New York City Public School System for 34 years. His extensive knowledge and wide-ranging interests are reflected in his one-of-a-kind walks of the City’s history, culture, architecture and ethnic neighborhoods. It is this knowledge that allows us to bestow upon him the term Urban Historian, one of just a few of our guides with that honor! His particular interests lie in New York’s urban immigration and its ever changing neighborhoods.
Marty has created three Conservancy tours: Jewish Harlem- a walking tour of the 3rd largest Jewish neighborhood on the planet from 1895 until the mid1920s, where many of the original synagogues still stand, but have been converted to churches in the 20th Century, the Upper West Side, which had been divided geographically into Upper West Side South, and Upper West Side North. Jewish UWS begins on 86th Street and CPW and UWS South meets at 68th Street and CPW. On this tour we visit Shearith Israel, the first Jewish congregation in colonial New York
Sarah Gurwitz is a native New Yorker who grew up on Long Island and The Bronx. She worked for most of her life in Manhattan, and has always been fascinated by the Lower East Side. In her youth, it was the place to buy clothes, eat dairy, and learn about her "roots.” Through high school and college, she enjoyed returning to the Lower East Side after being away from “the city.”
Sarah chose to learn more about the Lower East Side and became a tour leader after leaving the Department of Veterans Affairs, where she served as in-house Human Resource Consultant for the Under Secretary of Health. She also founded a consulting firm that provides Human Resource services including organizational assessment, staff development, training, and individual performance coaching. Sarah serves as a volunteer for the STAR Synagogue Consultation project.
On every tour she leads, she is proud to share her interest in the culture and history of New York with visitors who want to learn more about the architectural treasures of the Lower East Side.
Laurie Tobias Cohen, Executive Director
Barry Feldman's experiences as an educator, urban historian and museum educator have provided him with the professional skills to serve as a licensed New York City tour guide. He retired from a successful career as a school district administrator, having served as Deputy Superintendent of Schools in Brooklyn.
Barry created two Conservancy tours, O! Multitudes I and II, which trace the social history of housing on the Lower East Side from the late 18th century to the present.
His broad knowledge of immigrant and housing history and the history of the Lower East Side, his rich tour narrative and sense of humor make his tours informative and entertaining. His areas of specialization include the social history of housing, immigration, and Ellis Island, and the social history and ethnography of American Jews beginning with the colonial period. Mr. Feldman views cultural, social and religious institutions as interpretive texts of neighborhoods. He lives on the Upper East Side but is frequently downtown, walking the streets, keeping current on the many changes of the dynamic Lower East Side.
Laurie Tobias Cohen is a 25-year veteran in the field of Jewish Communal Service, and was appointed Executive Director of the LESJ Conservancy in 2002. She has studied and worked in the United States, as well as in Jerusalem and Edinburgh, Scotland.
Ms. Tobias Cohen recently completed the intensive Institute of Not-for-Profit Management, sponsored by New York UJA-Federation and the Columbia University School of Business. She loves the immigrant history of the Lower East Side, (and Jewish New York generally), and is grateful to be able to work with staff and Conservancy tour leaders who feel the same way, and who delight in sharing this precious history with their many visitors.