When Jonathan Greenstein holds an antique Jewish ceremonial object in his hand, it’s not just a question of monetary worth, but a study in Jewish history.
Greenstein is the chief expert and president of J. Greenstein Gallery on 417 Central Ave. in Cedarhurst and is the host of “Jewish Gilt,” a Jewish “Antiques Roadshow” type show, where the owner of the Judaica item presents it to Greenstein for evaluation. The second in the series will be available for viewing soon on the Jewish Channel on cable TV and FIOS.
Greenstein said he has been working with antique Judaica for more than 30 years and founded J. Greenstein & Company in 2003 in Brooklyn and moved it to its current location in 2010. He is known as an expert in the field and has been featured on CNN, NBC News, in articles in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
The TV show is “something I wanted to do for a long time, for Judaica and Jewish history,” he said. Previously, he’s appeared on Fox Business News with Stuart Varney to discuss the value of Jewish antiques usually “around holiday time-holidays in conjunction with antiques, Chanukah for menoras, Pesach for seder plates,” he said.
The half-hour show soon to be aired was taped in the gallery in June, over eight hours as people from the Five Towns area and beyond came in with Judaica to be evaluated. Additionally, it features “investigative visits” to the homes of collectors. “We find something really exciting, go to the person’s home to learn more about it and talk about the history of the piece, where they got it,” Greenstein said.
A family approached the counter and set their silver spice box down. The crew focused the camera, Greenstein clapped his hands and filming began. “Welcome to J. Greenstein galleries. What have you brought us today?” After they quietly explained the item’s family history, Greenstein noted that it was silver from Germany and valued at $800 to $1200. Another family’s tourist purchase of a green round menorah with a small oil jug in Israel in 1960 for $30 was evaluated as polished brass worth $300 to $500 — a “collectible souvenir” and Israelana.
“They tell me about it and I tell them what it is, who made it, how old it is and most important, what everyone wants to know, what it’s worth. Everybody loves it,” said Greenstein. He said that people “stop me on the streets of Cedarhurst — ‘You’re the Judaica guy!’ It’s fun.”
“Someone from the Five Towns brought in a Kiddush cup worth over $100,000,” he recalled. “It belonged to Rabbi Nathan Adler, a famous Kabbalist who lived in Frankfurt in the 18th century. The most popular item is a Kiddush cup.”
He recalled a seder plate crafted in 1790 in Germany worth about $6,000, adding that many people bring in fakes they bought in Israel. “It was still warm when they bought it, at a tourist trap. They show me and I tell them how misled they were. A doctor looks at an X-ray and knows; a layman looks at an X-ray and doesn’t know.”
Jewish Channel CEO Elie Singer, who lives in the Five Towns, started the channel in September 2007.
We “try to walk the middle ground regarding politics and religion. We leave the rhetoric aside and cover it the way we see it,” he said.
After someone suggested that he meet Greenstein, “we shot the pilot last year,” Singer said. “It was a long process; it took a lot of planning, scripting and editing.”
Greenstein notes at the opening of the show that he travels “all over to appraise and evaluate Judaica” and on the show the viewer can “explore the long history of the Jewish people through our ritual objects.”
“It’s the only reality show taped in Cedarhurst!” he said.