Nearly 40 years after its ovens cooled down and 15 years after it was willed to the Ulster County Jewish Federation, the former Reher Bakery is back in business — this time to collect and tell the stories of Kingston’s immigrant past and present.
This Saturday, June 1, the Reher Center for Immigrant Culture and History will kick off its first full season of programming, with two exhibits and weekend tours of the bakery.
“Last year was a lot of community outreach,” said the center’s development director, Barbara Mansfield. “This year is the first summer where we have a full season of programming.”
The Reher Bakery at the corner of Broadway and Spring Street was founded by a Jewish immigrant family in 1908 and remained a mainstay of the Rondout neighborhood until it closed in the 1980s. In the decades before urban renewal, the densely populated neighborhood was home to immigrant families from around the world, as well as African-American migrants fleeing the Jim Crow South. The bakery was a popular destination on Sundays when it was one of the few businesses open on the Christian Sabbath.
In 2004, the last local descendant of the Reher family, Hymie Reher, willed the building to the Ulster County Jewish Federation for use as a community center or museum. Ownership was later transferred to a nonprofit, which has raised money to stabilize and restore the bakery. In addition to the bakery, the center features upstairs gallery space and room for exhibitions and educational programming.
The center will serve as a conduit to tell the stories of immigrants past and present who have transformed Kingston. The decision to focus on immigration was inspired by Executive Director Sarah Litvin’s discovery in the bakery of an old paper bag with dozens of names on it — standing orders for Sunday customers — reflecting the cultural diversity of the neighborhood.
“Building on the legacy of [the] Reher Bakery, I want the Reher Center to be a hub that draws together Kingstonians from different backgrounds to chat, eat, laugh and even cry as we share the dreams and struggles that brought us here, and honor the histories, cultures and communities that sustain us,” said Litvin.
The center will kick off its summer season with two exhibits centered on immigration. “Immigrant Stories: The Making of La Transazione” features archival photos and portraits by local artist Nancy Donskoj. A second exhibit, “Refuge or Refusal: Turning Points in U.S. Immigration History,” is on loan from the Museum of History and Holocaust Education at Kennesaw State University. The exhibit explores key turning points in the evolution of U.S. immigration policy.
The exhibits will open with a reception on Saturday, June 1 from 5-8 p.m. Gallery hours will be Saturdays and Sundays from noon -5 p.m. For more information, including schedules for bakery tours and other events, visit rehercenter.org.