ANNE RUSS FEDERMAN 1921 to 2018
Although we never met, I feel I must have at some point glimpsed Anne Russ Federman — last of the legendary Russ daughters, who passed away last week at 97. It would have been the late 1960s when I went to New York to live after college. I immediately noticed the now-iconic photograph over the counter of Joel Russ and his three daughters proudly standing together. I marveled at the whiff of brininess of herring, the smokiness of whitefish and lox, and the sweetness of babka and fruits that welcomes as you enter the tiny store. And I began my tradition—which continues to this day—of always starting off with a taste of my favorite: the pickled salmon in cream sauce.
At the turn of the last century, Joel Russ came from Galicia and peddled a herring pushcart on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Mrs. Federman may have been born into Russ’ Cut Rate Appetizers—as the store was called in 1914, when it opened—but for her as a young girl, pulling out the smelly Schmaltz herring in salt brine from big wooden barrels for customers was not particularly appetizing. As she and her two sisters were growing up before and during the Depression, they had no choice but to help their family after school and on weekends as their parents competed with perhaps 20 to 30 other appetizing stores on the Lower East Side. “She had a tough life,” said Mark Federman, her son, who took over the business in 1978.
When Mrs. Federman retired in the 1970s she reclaimed her life. “She loved the attention that Russ & Daughters gave her,” said Mr. Federman. “Her bridge partners felt that they were playing with a rock star. A koved for all her hard work at the appetizing store.”
An appetizing store is just that: It stocks smoked and pickled fish for the Sabbath, for holidays, and for lifecycle events. It also sells candy and dried fruits. When Mrs. Federman was growing up, Katz’s, Yonah Schimmel and many more stores were in the neighborhood of the Lower East Side but, despite the hard work, only Russ & Daughters, which moved to 179 East Houston Street in 1940, is still run by the original family. And, with the Russ & Daughters Café on the Lower East Side and the café at the Jewish Museum, as well as business from mail order and online sales. Russ & Daughters, run by the fourth generation, is thankfully thriving.
But something else was and is going on. Food, and particularly Israeli and some Jewish food, has emerged to be good — and often great. Herring with its Omega 3 fatty acids is healthy. (Plus Mr. Federman, as part of his legacy, had the good sense to introduce caviar to his customers in the late 1970s.)
Mrs. Federman, and her two sisters— who could not always do what they wanted as young girls—set an example for their children, grandchildren, and the rest of us. Thank goodness, the tiny store still gives customers the best quality by scouring the world for their products. “There is this Yiddish word yichus that means passing down,” said Mr. Federman. “There are neither royals nor rabbis in our family. Our yichus is fish: smoked, cured and pickled.”
Fortunately Niki Federman, Mark’s daughter, and Josh Russ Tupper, his nephew, feel at home in the business and are fulfilling their grandmother’s legacy of hard work, good quality, and ingenuity to survive in perhaps a different market from the one in which Anne Russ Federman was born, but one in which customers old and new are encountering this one special family’s legacy—and their gift to us all.