Month: May 2014


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This project has changed my outlook on Pittsburgh and its past, absolving me of my ability to take the city around me for granted.  By researching the cultures and communities that shaped the world around me, my outlook has now been changed.  The imprints of millions of lives are left around the area, and the fascinating stories of those who came before us helped me gain a greater appreciation of the triumphs and struggles of the common human story.

For their invaluable help and support, not to mention transportation, I would like to thank my mother and father.  I would also like to thank Mr. Don Belt, Mr. Paul Salopek, and Dr. Liz Duraisingh for their support and interest in my project, for which I am greatly honored.  Finally, I would like to thank my friends and teachers who reviewed my work and helped me through the brainstorming and editing processes.  I could not have written this blog alone.

-David Han


Polish Culture: S&D Polish Deli and the Polish Falcons of America Building

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The bustling Strip District street is a pantheon of diversity, hosting cultures and cuisines ranging from West Coast fish tacos to Italian biscotti.  As I approach the locally famous S&D Polish Deli, the white storefront festooned with Polish emblems beckons customers from all backgrounds inside.  Within the store, an array of Kielbasy, or sausages, and Haluszki, or noodle dishes are on display under a glass countertop, and hundreds of specialty ethnic foods crowd the shelves in the store’s back.

The Polish Delikatesy is popular for its “slow food”; its ingredients are fresh and cooked in the store, following traditional recipes.  Testifying to the rich history of Pittsburgh immigrants, there are three varieties of the Haluszki: Pittsburgh, Polish, and Slovak (“About Us.”).  These simple, filling dishes provide a shared cultural narrative.  Like Pittsburgh itself, Polish cuisine is a mix of different culinary traditions, incorporating Slavic, Turkic, Germanic, and Jewish customs and ingredients into its recipes (“Polish Cuisine.”).

As I walk through Pittsburgh’s Sidney Street, I almost miss the nondescript red and white stucco exterior of the Polish Falcons of America building.  The organization has its roots in a group opposing Czarist Russia the January Uprising of 1863, dedicating itself to the motto “A sound mind in a sound body”.  In 1917, the Polish Falcons of America trained 25,000 young men for an expeditionary force in World War One, fighting for both Polish independence and American interests, later serving as a standing army for the new country of Poland (“Our History.”).

The group today serves as a fraternal benefit society providing “Physical, social, and financial welfare” for its 23,000 members, offering cultural and recreational programs and preserving Polish tradition.  Through perpetuating these core values, the Falcons continue to serve America’s Polish community to this day (“Our History”).

1- “Polish Cuisine.” Polish American Deli. Polish American Deli, 2006. Web. 04 May 2014.

2- “About Us.” S&D Polish Deli. S&D Polish Deli, n.d. Web. 4 May 2014.

3- “Our History.” Polish Falcons of America History. Polish Falcons of America, 2013. Web. 04 May 2014.

German Food: Max’s Allegheny Tavern

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Max’s Allegheny Tavern resides on a quiet, unassuming street, nestled between brick churches and two-story houses.  The interior of the bar is dim and quiet, with occasional customers sitting down on brown leather seats or wandering into the dining hall.  This room is bright and sunny, decorated with old photographs and paintings of Pittsburgh, serving as a cultural and historic repository.  Because the bar is closed at the time, the bartender is kind enough to show me the party room, a former rathskeller.  This cool, large basement, originally used for chilling beer, became a famous speakeasy during Prohibition years, allowing the restaurant to continue to turn a profit (“About Max’s Allegheny Tavern.”).

The tavern was founded by George Rahn, who sold his saloon on East Ohio street in the early 1900s and built the Hotel Rahn, operating a bar and restaurant with his wife on the first floor.  George, a descendant of immigrants, served traditional German foods and local Pittsburgh beer. This allowed the local German immigrant community to meet, keeping culture and traditions alive.  Although Prohibition exacted a heavy toll on the tavern and bar industry, speakeasies like Max’s thrived, providing an enjoyable, albeit illegal, form of entertainment among the poverty and difficulties of the Great Depression.  Allegheny County was hit hard by Prohibition, with one third of all workers unemployed. In this environment, illegal gangs flourished, some founded by immigrant Mafias who had moved to America, expanding their empires.  However, Max’s Allegheny Tavern did not import alcohol, so its owners and patrons were spared from the violence and illicit actions that other bars faced (Mellon, Steve.).

Upon glancing at the menu, I notice that the food described is a collage of the traditional and the modern.  Between Knackwurst with Kraut and Bavarian Nachos, the intermixing of cultures embodied by Pittsburgh is obvious.  The food is rich and heavy, and is deemed authentic by many of the Tavern’s patrons.  The rich, smoky aroma of the sausages and reubens pervade the cold air, and drift along the tranquil Pittsburgh street.

1- “About Max’s Allegheny Tavern.” About Max’s Allegheny Tavern. Max’s Allegheny Tavern, n.d. Web. 03 May 2014.

2-“German – Building Institutions, Shaping Tastes – Immigration…- Classroom Presentation | Teacher Resources – Library of Congress.” German – Building Institutions, Shaping Tastes – Immigration…- Classroom Presentation | Teacher Resources – Library of Congress. Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 02 May 2014.

3- Mellon, Steve. “Pittsburgh: The Dark Years.” Pittsburgh: The Dark Years. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, n.d. Web. 04 May 2014.

Jewish Immigration: Jewish Community Center

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The Hebrew numbers on the clock tower of the Jewish Community Center provide an immediate point of interest as I walk along the busy Pittsburgh street.  Originally known as the Columbian School and Settlement, the Community Center was founded by the Council of Jewish Women in 1895.  Like many settlement houses of the time, it included English and citizenship classes, as well as free baths and a reading room.  In 1909, a new building was donated by Theresa and Henry Kaufmann in memory of their daughter, Irene (“History.”)  This rectangular edifice, then known as the Irene Kaufmann Settlement, provided healthcare and educational programs to a diverse population of immigrants, including Jews and African- Americans (“Rauh Jewish Archives.”).

Settlement houses like the Irene Kaufmann Settlement provided invaluable resources to Pittsburgh’s immigrant population.  The specific goals of these institutions varied, but their common goals remained similar.  All settlement houses were founded to improve the quality of life of the poor and work for social reform, through providing educational, recreational, and vocational opportunities.  For immigrants, especially those emigrating from Europe, language barriers often proved insurmountable.  Many were refused jobs and other opportunities due to their illiteracy, keeping entire communities mired in poverty.  To resolve this immense problem, organizations similar to the Irene Kaufmann Settlement taught English and civic classes, helping immigrants to improve their positions in life (“Settlement House History.”).

Another major impact the Settlement houses provided was less positive.  Many immigrant families felt that their children were becoming “Americanized”, and converting to the religious beliefs held by the founders of the organizations.  Because of this, specifically Jewish settlement houses, like the Irene Kaufmann Center, began to offer programs like Hebrew schools to young Jewish children, in addition to the other, more mainstream classes.  Because of this, the Jewish communities in major American cities thrived for decades (“Settlement Houses.”).

1- “History.” JCC Pittsburgh RSS. Jewish Community Center, 2014. Web. 03 May 2014.

2-“Rauh Jewish Archives.” Rauh Jewish Archives. Senator John Heinz History Center, n.d. Web. 03 May 2014.

3-“Settlement House History.” – United Neighborhood Houses. United Neighborhood Houses, 2011. Web. 03 May 2014.

4- “Settlement Houses.” Settlement Houses. Jewish Virtual Library, 2008. Web. 03 May 2014.

Italian Push and Pull Factors: St. Maria Goretti Roman Catholic Church

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In the heart of a busy intersection, the St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church stands proudly, a tower of ornate brick and stone statuary.  It is the amalgamation of three former parishes: the St. Lawrence O’Toole, Immaculate Conception, and St. Joseph’s Catholic Churches (“Saint Maria Goretti.”).  St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church was founded by German immigrants in 1867, accommodating a surge in Bloomfield’s population during the late 18th century (“Saint Joseph (German), Manchester.”).  The Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church was established in 1906, serving an Italian immigrant congregation.  The first major group of immigrants arrived in the 1900s, with another wave settling in the area before and during the Second World War (Grano, Anthony.).

Italian immigrants came to America in search of better lives.  Because of population growth in Italy, many native Italians were forced to live in smaller and more crowded homes and communities, barely eking out a living.  These men and women were prohibited from obtaining better lives in Italy due to a dearth of financial resources, so they searched for brighter futures elsewhere.  Unfortunately, most Italian immigrants still found poverty upon arrival, being forced by language barriers into unskilled labor and low wages.  However, their lives were still often better than those they left behind, so the flow of emigration continued (Hay, Jeff.)

The majority of Italian immigrants emigrated from Southern Italy, as the 1860 reunification of Southern and Northern Italy led to a government that “favored the North”. Another important factor in this mass exodus was familial ties, as many hoped to settle with siblings and parents who had already crossed the Atlantic (“Immigration Library”).  Due to strong family ties and religious values like those exhibited by the congregation of the Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church, Italian immigrants  gradually integrated with mainstream American society.

1- “Saint Joseph (German), Manchester.” Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh |. Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, 2014. Web. 03 May 2014.

2- “Saint Maria Goretti.” Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh |. Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, 2014. Web. 03 May 2014.

3- “Immaculate Conception, Bloomfield.” Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh |. Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, 2014. Web. 03 May 2014.

4- Grano, Anthony. “Bloomfield, Pittsburgh’s Little Italy |” Bloomfield, Pittsburgh’s Little Italy | La Gazzetta Italiana, n.d. Web. 03 May 2014.

5- Hay, Jeff. “Immigrants from Italy.” Immigration. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven, 2001. 81-83. Print.

6- “Immigration Library.” Immigration Library. The Advocates for Human Rights, 2011. Web. 02 May 2014.

Jewish Push and Pull Factors: Rodef Shalom

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The inscription on the synagogue entrance reads “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people”.  As I walk through the well-manicured garden of the Rodef Shalom, the concave, aquamarine roof casts an oblong shadow on the abstract menorahs that light the grounds.  The synagogue has a convoluted history; it was split into two congregations in 1855, then reunited after reconciliation in 1860.  Over the following decades, Rodef Shalom changed from Orthodox Judaism to Reform Judaism, instituting major changes in doctrine and services.  In 1870, Rabbi Lippman Mayer began delivering sermons in English rather than the traditional German, then hosted a meeting of other Pittsburgh Reform rabbis in 1885.  This new “Pittsburgh Platform” led to a change of doctrine, deciding that the Bible was not to be used as “the infallible word of God” and stating that keeping Kosher was no longer mandatory.  These decisions served as the official platform for North American Reform Judaism until 1937.  Because of the significance and importance of Rodef Shalom, many Jewish immigrants moving from Europe settled in the area and joined the congregation (“History of Rodef Shalom”).

Much of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community emigrated to America to escape discrimination and persecution in their home communities.  In 1904, the largest wave of Jewish Immigrants fled Russia and Poland’s Tsarist government, which restricted the areas in which they could reside and their available jobs.  The Russian Pogroms in 1881- 1884 and 1903- 1906 forced many Jews to flee their ancestral homes for a safer life in America (“American Jewish Immigration”).  German Jews fled during the late 1840s and 1850s after failed liberal revolutions, continuing this political mindset throughout their lives in America.  Like the congregation of Rodef Shalom, many synagogues embraced Reform Judaism over Orthodox Judaism (Bazelon, Bruce.).

Besides emigrating to America for personal safety and freedom, Jewish Immigrants also made the difficult trans-Atlantic journey for religious and economic reasons.  In Poland, rural cooperatives were created to exclude Jews from the local economy, and the Romanian government attempted to “drive them out of the country”.  Many Eastern European governments used persecution and intimidation to attempt to solve “the Jewish problem”, and fueled much Semitic emigration out of Europe and into the United States (Ettinger, Shmuel.).

1-Bazelon, Bruce. “Jews in Pennsylvania.” Groups. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1986. Web. 03 May 2014.

2-“History of Rodef Shalom.” Rodef Shalom. Rodef Shalom Congregation, n.d. Web. 03 May 2014.

3- Hay, Jeff. “Jewish Peoples in the United States.” Immigration. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven, 2001. 84-85. Print.

4- Ettinger, Shmuel. “Jewish Emigration in the 19th Century – My Jewish Learning.” Jewish Emigration in the 19th Century – My Jewish Learning. My Jewish Learning, n.d. Web. 03 May 2014.

5-“American Jewish Immigration.” The Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art RSS. The Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art, n.d. Web. 02 May 2014.



Italian Food: Del’s Bar and Ristorante DelPizzo

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The homogenous colors of concrete and brick blend together in the Bloomfield neighborhood, only accentuated by occasional advertisements and signs.  As I walk further along the cracking sidewalks, I notice a multitude of murals embellishing the walls surrounding me; the area becomes progressively more vibrant.  Upon entering Del’s Ristorante DelPizzo, the atmosphere changes dramatically.  The dim lighting is juxtaposed with the colorful wallpaper and floor, and the aroma of marinara sauce pervades the air.

Del’s was founded in 1949 by Mary and Benny DelPizzo, the grandparents of the current owners; siblings John and Marianne (“About Us.”).  They were gracious enough to allow me into their kitchen, a world of escaping steam and constant activity.  Here, a diverse group of local workers fry, sear, and boil the food ordered by the customers in the dining area.  My family orders a plate of “1949” lasagna, fried zucchini, and a large pizza, which proves to be satisfyingly cheesy and tasty.  Italian-American food is a true composite, a new, unique cuisine.  Italian immigrants like Mary and Benny DelPizzo, who arrived in 1908, adapted traditional recipes to a new market, creating famous foods like round pizza and spaghetti with meatballs (Mancuso, Janice Therese.).  Because of the new popularity of Italian foods in America, the production of foods like olive oil and tomato products increased dramatically in cities like Sicily and Naples (Gabbaccia, Donna R.).

The lasagna is rich, smothered in ground beef and mozzarella cheese.  When I ordered it from the menu, it was advertised as a “1949” recipe.  Within the 20 years prior to the founding of Del’s, Italian food gained increasing popularity, despite the decrease in imports from Italy due to Mussolini’s “battle for grain” and high depression-era tariffs.  Because of the low supply of traditional food, many American companies began attempting to replicate ingredients like aged cheese, tomato sauce, and pasta (Gabaccia, Donna R.).  This became a thriving industry, fueling the Italian-American food industry for years to come.


1- “About Us.” Del’s Restaurant Pittsburgh. Del’s Restaurant, n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2014.

2-Mancuso, Janice Therese. “A Brief History of Italian Food in America.” A Brief History of Italian Food in America. La Gazzetta Italiana, n.d. Web. 01 May 2014.

3. Gabaccia, Donna R. “History in Focus.” Pizza, Pasta and Red Sauce: Italian or American?, an Article from. History in Focus, Autumn 2006. Web. 02 May 2014.

4. Mariani, John. “Italian America | SAVEUR.” Saveur, 11 Nov. 2011. Web. 02 May 2014.