Growing up as a Jew in Brooklyn involved unique experiences. It could have been playing stickball in the one of the borough’s many parks, enjoying the beaches of Coney Island in the summer, playing street games after school, taking in a Brooklyn Dodgers game or weekend matinees. Whatever it was, we would love to hear about your Brooklyn Jewish experiences. Click here to share Your Story with us!
Congregation Ahavas Israel is a 120 year-old synagogue located in the Greenpoint Historic District in North Brooklyn, New York. The synagoguge holds Sabbath and holiday services, all of which are followed by communal meals. It also organizes classes by visiting rabbis and scholars, and hosts Hanukah and parties as well as other communal events. Ahavas Israel is the only remaining Jewish congregation in a neighborhood that once supported five synagogues.… Read More »Congregation Ahavas Israel
Brooklyn synagogues are important centers for Jewish communities. For generations, synagogues in Europe and the Middle East were primarily for adult male prayer and study. In the US, they began to expand their roles to include other spiritual, cultural and educational activities for the whole family. The synagogue became a place to congregate, to celebrate life cycle events and social occasions. Many synagogues began to build social halls where a… Read More »Synagogues and Jewish Centers
Brooklyn is famous for its writers, as well as its visual and performing artists. Much of the latter talent has been forged through the public high school system. “SING,” an annual Brooklyn high school tradition of student-run musical theater production, which was started by a music teacher at Midwood High School in Brooklyn in 1947, continues today across the city. Students develop their skills in choreography, singing, lighting, building sets,… Read More »The Arts
Mah jongg! That’s the call of a winning hand! Since the 1920s, the game of mah jongg has ignited the popular imagination with its beautiful tiles, mythical origins, and communal spirit. Come learn the history and meaning of the beloved game that became a Jewish-American tradition.
Mah jongg is much more than a game: it is a carrier of fantasy, identity, memory, and meaning. Three bam, two dot, flower, five crack, dragons, winds! The tiles, lined up against racks as four players sit around card tables concentrating heavily on making a viable hand and winning the game.
From early 20th century Shanghai, where Jewish men and women first began playing to Brooklyn, mah jongg is a popular game played in senior citizen centers, community centers and in private homes, mah jongg. The game spread to the United States., becoming extremely popular among Jews from New York to California. The American version is slightly different than the Chinese. American sets have 152 tiles in four suits. In the early days, tiles were made of ivory, then bakelight and today different plastics and materials are used. The rules of the game are determined by the National Mah Jongg Association.
Jewish actors like Eddie Cantor and Woody Allen refer to their mothers playing mah jongg.
Located on the main stretch of Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach Avenue, among numerous Russian delis, Russian-language bookstores and a shuttered Russian travel agency, the Brighton Neighborhood Association stands out. Its window is one of the few on the block with signs predominantly in English, and it’s one of the few storefronts near the elevated tracks of the B and Q trains that doesn’t actually sell anything.
This doesn’t stop people — and definitely not elderly Russians — from strolling through the glass front door, unannounced, on a regular basis. Some mistake the office for a thrift store and start lifting up, one by one, the porcelain and enamel elephants, gifts from friends and other tchotchkes on the desk of Pat Singer, founder and executive director of BNA, a not-for-profit social service agency in Brighton Beach, a neighborhood that stretches for one mile along the Atlantic coast.
Singer has to break into her limited knowledge of Russian to shoo them away: “Not magazin, this office! Not for sale, nooo! Get your hands off my desk!”
Singer, the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants from Odessa, is a community leader in this predominantly Russian-speaking neighborhood: “I’m called ‘the Mother of Brighton Beach,’ but I’m a bad mother, because I can’t communicate with my children.”
Eli Miller, 79, New York City’s senior seltzer man, hoisted crate after crate of seltzer — weighing 70 pounds apiece — into his van and then draped himself over them.
“I’m running on fumes — the reason I work is, I just can’t stay home,” said Mr. Miller, who has been delivering seltzer in Brooklyn for more than a half-century.
He can afford to retire, but that would mean his customers, many of whom have been with him for decades, might have to resort to store-bought seltzer.
“I don’t want them to have to drink that dreck you buy in the supermarket,” he said, using the Yiddish term for dirt. “So I guess I’ll retire when Gabriel blows his horn.”
Mr. Miller said that when he began delivering, on March 10, 1960, there were perhaps 500 seltzer men in the city, and a half-dozen seltzer bottlers. Now he can count his delivery competition on one hand, and they all fill up at the last seltzer factory in the city: Gomberg Seltzer Works in Canarsie.
Throughout Brooklyn, the sound of the shofar (ram’s horn) was blown during the two days of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year welcoming in the year 5774. The holiday was the beginning of a month of holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot) and a transformation of the borough, which has more Jewish people than anywhere else in the country.
The holidays came late this year, so early that many Jews remained in their summer homes for the holidays. The holiday preparations include the [preparation] cooking of many traditional foods, which are eaten as symbols of the holidays. Holiday challah is formed into a round shape to represent the circle of life. So that we may have a sweet New Year, it is filled with sweet raisins, and you can smell the challah baking, along with the traditional honey cake, as you ride down the avenues. At the holiday table, the challah is dipped in honey, along with the apples, the fall fruit, with a benediction. Symbolic foods like dates, the head of a fish (or animal), pomegranate seeds, gourds, and Swiss chard are traditionally eaten in different varieties, whether in Ashkenazi or Sephardi families.
By Adam Cohen My family grew up in Brooklyn including my parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and both sets of grandparents. I was dubbed a first generation New Jerseyan by many of my family members. As you could imagine, we spent a lot of time in Brooklyn. My parents would take my sister and I into Brooklyn on a whim and show us where they grew up, met, and dated. They… Read More »Memories of Sheepshead Bay