Growing Up In Bensonhurst

Sarina Roffe, interviewed May 30, 2012, Brooklyn Borough Hall: My most favorite memories from growing up as a Jew in Brooklyn are playing street ball and street games with the Italian neighbors that I had growing up in Bensonhurst. I used to live on 69th Street between 21st Avenue and Bay Parkway, and all of the kids, and all my cousins would go to the Marboro Theater, and we would go for matinees… Read More »Growing Up In Bensonhurst

What’s in a name?

Sandra Aboulafia, interviewed May 30, 2012, Brooklyn Borough Hall: My family is both Sephardic and Ashkenazi. Aboulafia is a very, very old name. It can be traced back to the year 800. Rabbi Aboulafia came from Toledo, Spain and the El Greco museum used to be the home of Samuel Aboulafia, and my brother is Samuel Aboulafia, so the name has carried through all this history. During the Spanish Inquisition, the… Read More »What’s in a name?

Sandy Koufax

Sandy Koufax 1961 Just in: Koufax was a baller of more than one kind Apparently Brooklyn Jewish baseball legend Sandy Koufax had short legs but also ups. He played basketball for Lafayette High School in Bath Beach, Brooklyn in the early 1950s, setting himself apart as an extraordinary player on the court before going on to his career as an all-star pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers. As an early teenager… Read More »Sandy Koufax

Kane Street Synagogue’s Heroic Congregant

Submitted by Judith Greenwald Among our early members was Civil War hero Brigadier-General Leopold C. Newman.  At the age of 22, already a lawyer and engaged to be married, he volunteered for duty in the 31st New York Infantry Regiment.  Newman fought in seventeen engagements and was promoted for valor to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.  On May 3, 1863 he led his company in the charge of Mary’s Heights in… Read More »Kane Street Synagogue’s Heroic Congregant

Jewish Neighborhoods

“Brooklyn Bridge” Teleplay

Home Is a Place Over the Bridge Brooklyn informs most of writer and television producer Gary David Goldberg’s work. Goldberg, probably best known for the television series Family Ties, grew up in Bensonhurst in the 1940s and 1950s with his grandparents, parents, and older brother. They were three generations living under one roof. (Goldberg’s grandparents, immigrants from Russia and Poland, lived downstairs in the apartment building.) In 1991, he created… Read More »“Brooklyn Bridge” Teleplay

Are We Funny or What?

Submitted by Joe Dorinson Brooklyn produced a bumper crop of comic artists. Many of the nation’s premier humorists–Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Buddy Hackett, Jack Carter, Joan Rivers, Fanny Brice (and her avatar, Barbra Streisand),  Alan King, Lenny Bruce, Danny Kaye, Abe Burrows, Phil Silvers, Phil Foster, and Henny Youngman–mined their Brooklyn past and Jewish roots for comedic nuggets. Starting in local candy stores, they honed their… Read More »Are We Funny or What?

Yiddish Musical Theater

Yiddish Sheet Music

Oral tradition dies never: Yiddish musical theater, from Eastern Europe to the Lower East Side

Like any folk or traditional music, Yiddish music came into being as a record and reflection of a common lived experience. The music developed through oral tradition, as Ashkenazi Jews converted poetic texts of into secular music to mark Jewish life cycle events. As an oral practice, the musical tradition thrived through adaptation, with Jews and non-Jews mingling, each borrowing from one another. Yiddish musical theater arose from Jewish minstrelsy and the Purimshpil (Purim-play) – religious-inspired performances included as part of Purim celebrations that included short plays, music, costuming, and pageantry – and reaching the height of its popularity in eastern Europe by the nineteenth century. This minstrelsy usually borrowed from liturgy, folk tradition, secular Jewish songs, or non-Jewish musical sources. The minstrel tradition was often presented through satire, “historic or timely ballads,” commentaries, or adapted folk stories, and often appealed to less educated, less affluent audiences, dealing with political, social, or economic themes, or the “always timely themes of life, faith, and hope” (Heskes, 75). Yiddish theater’s success in eastern Europe ended when Russian authorities banned Jewish theatricals in 1883. At this point Jews, including many Jewish minstrels, began to emigrate, many crossing the Atlantic and entering the U.S. through New York, finally settling on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and spawning a fresh Yiddish musical theater scene within the working class immigrant community. Irene Heskes describes, “This musical theater and its popular songs were a chronicle of the times, infusing essences of the Old World into the new American scene. Theatrical stars served as surrogate family, and their presentations helped explain and interpret, entertain and guide, thereby easing difficulties in the period of change” (76). The “big three” houses appeared in the late nineteenth century –The People’s Theater, the Windsor, and the Thalia. In 1902 journalist Hutchins Hapgood wrote that these theaters represented “…the world of the Ghetto – that New York City of Russian Jews, large, complex, with a full life and civilization…[and] alone present the serious as well as the trivial interests of an entire community” (Heskes, 77).
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Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin of Bensonhurst

A Leader Among Many: Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin of Bensonhurst Submitted by Sarina Roffe Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin was born in 1900 in the old city of Jerusalem and is a descendant of an unbroken chain of rabbis dating back to the mid-16th Century. Of Aleppan descent, he became the first Chief Rabbi of the Syrian Jewish community in Bensonhurst in 1933. A qualified Dayan (judge), shochet, mohel and kabbalistic… Read More »Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin of Bensonhurst