CULTURE AND TRADITION

Brooklyn Jews have traditions and cultural practices that are as varied as the countries and regions from which they come, whether it is Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, or the Middle East. Each has adopted, adapted, and continued customs learned generations ago from their ancestors.

By Sarina Roffe
Jewish culture in all its variety thrives in Brooklyn, binding individuals and families together as a people. Central to Jewish culture are traditions which are handed down from one generation to another and which adapt to local conditions. Jewish cultural diversity in Brooklyn derives from the countries of origin of its populations, their languages, and ancestral customs. Cultural traditions powerfully influence the lives of Jews in Brooklyn who hail from all around the globe.

Brooklyn Jews have traditions and cultural practices that are as varied as the countries and regions from which they come, whether it is Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, or the Middle East. Each has adopted, adapted, and continued customs learned generations ago from their ancestors.

Nowhere are the culture and traditions more obvious than in our foods. From Brooklyn’s famous bagels and bialys to the cholesterol-building delicatessen, you can find tremendous variety in Jewish foods brought together in Brooklyn.
The borough is filled with both homey and exotic kosher restaurants, from family style pizzerias to white glove service restaurants that tempt the palate. In Brooklyn, you will find kosher Chinese, Japanese, Italian, and Mexican food, just to name a few cuisines. In the past decade, many Israeli restaurants have opened, specializing in refreshing Israeli salads, falafel, shish kabob and mouthwatering shwarma.

Kosher supermarkets and butchers are in abundance in Brooklyn, from the smallest neighborhood stores to top of the line supermarkets which carry gourmet products. Full service kosher supermarkets, such as Pomegranate on Coney Island Avenue, appeal to the health conscious shopper seeking organic and locally grown foods. The borough is also dotted with kosher wine shops, which sell fine kosher wines. Many grocery stores, such as Shop Rite, Waldbaum’s and Stop & Shop, cater to the Jewish food shopper, as do wholesale warehouses.

Shoppers along Brighton Beach Avenue in Brighton Beach will find Russian signs lining the avenues, the stores filled with Russian speakers, Russian food items and their senses tempted by aroma of Russian cuisine. Similarly, on a walk down Kings Highway from McDonald Avenue to Ocean Parkway, shoppers will hear Arabic and Israeli-speaking Jews in stores filled with shelves lined with pita bread and freezers stuffed with Middle Eastern delicacies. Yiddish is the language of choice along 13th Avenue in Borough Park, Crowne Heights and Williamsburg, where appetizing foods like kugels and stuffed cabbage are comforting food for families.

Brooklyn Jews shop in some of the best bakeries in the world, with fresh challah sold in abundance on Fridays for use on the Sabbath. Familiar eastern European breads include pumpernickel, rye bread studded with caraway seeds, and zesty onion rolls. The bakeries feature specialty items for Jewish holidays, like sufganiyot (doughnuts)– a Sephardic treat for Hanukah, hamentashen (triangle-shaped filled pastry) for Purim, or round sweet raisin challah for Rosh Hashanah. Mansour’s on Kings Highway specializes in decadent but delicious Middle East pastries. Smaller communities, like the Jews of the Caucasus or Central Asian origin continue to nurture their culinary traditions, selling specialty breads like tandoori- baked round lepeshka and pomegranate-molasses condiments.

In observance of the Sabbath and holidays, observant Jewish-owned businesses will close 2 hours before the Sabbath on Fridays and holidays and remain closed until the end of the Saturday or holiday. Some will reopen Saturday night two hours after the Sabbath ends.

Cultural traditions permeate every part of Jewish life in Brooklyn, whether in the Hassidic, orthodox, Conservative, Reform or secular Jewish worlds. In addition to the comfort of traditional foods, traditions guide how we celebrate holidays, what music and art we appreciate, how we dress, and how we name our children.