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
Bazaar in Bensonhurst, 86th Street east from Bay 32nd Street, Brooklyn.
Emigration to New York began in about 1907, although a few arrived earlier. The Syrian Jewish community in New York originally consisted of two groups, Jews from Aleppo and Jews from Damascus. At first the convergence of the two groups was not easy. The Aleppan Jews, or Halabis, thought themselves superior, largely due to their history in Syria as a center of Jewish learning. They followed the traditions of Aram Soba. The Damascene Jews, or shammies, prayed in a different house of worship, although the two groups lived side by side, socialized and intermarried.
After living on the Lower East Side, in the 1920s the Syrian Jews began moving to Bensonhurst, a Brooklyn neighborhood, where they established a cemetery (first in Queens, then on Staten Island), two synagogues, a Talmud Torah and a ritual bath. The Damascene Jews prayed at Ahi Ezer Synagogue on 71st Street, led by Rabbi Murad Maslaton, while the Aleppan Jews prayed at Magen David Synagogue on 67th Street. With few exceptions, the families follow Orthodox Jewish religion, following Jewish law and the traditions and values of Sephardic and Syria tradition. They are highly respectful of their elders and of family values. In 1933, Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin, a TalmidHakham from Jerusalem and a descendant of an unbroken chain of rabbis dating back to 1600, was hired as the community’s chief rabbi.
“How could a kosher restaurant have opened in Park Slope without my knowing about it?” I unceremoniously asked of the first person to greet me as I walked into Chagall Bistro, who happened to be Dan Gicquel, the restaurant’s owner. Ten minutes before, I was settling in for a Sunday night dinner of hard-boiled eggs when a scan of my Facebook newsfeed turned up a friend’s posting: “New kosher restaurant on 5th Avenue and 5th Street!” I shared the news with my husband, who joined in my incredulity that this critical information had slipped past the vigilant watch we keep over all of brownstone Brooklyn’s Jewish news. A moment later, our phone rang. It was a foodie friend of ours who happened to be driving through the neighborhood. We shared the news, called the Facebook friend who had started it all, and a few minutes later, the four of us were scrutinizing the meat menu posted outside of the restaurant’s doors, its kosher certification prominently displayed, and I was demanding answers.
The devastating storm surges and high winds that wreaked havoc on so many
The devastating storm surges and high winds that wreaked havoc on so many as Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the East Coast may well be the largest catastrophe many of us have ever experienced, yet while the disastrous superstorm left a gargantuan trail of destruction in its wake, it still proved to be no match for the most powerful force of all – that of human resilience and the belief that everything in this world happens for a good reason.
Residents of coastal communities including Manhattan Beach, Far Rockaway the Five Towns, Belle Harbor, Long Beach and Seagate are struggling to cope with the staggering losses many of them have endured. Yet despite the lack of housing, running water, electricity and the loss of all their earthly possession, the indomitable spirit of the Jewish soul continues to put its unwavering trust in G-d’s benevolence, vowing to rebuild once again. Read More »Sandy Wreaks Havoc
Borough Park in Brooklyn, with its preponderance of Orthodox synagogues and kosher restaurants, is the most Jewish area in the New York City region, with 78 percent of households there identifying as Jewish. Close behind is Great Neck, Long Island, with its thriving enclave of Persian Jews, and then the Five Towns, also on Long Island, where a higher percentage of Jews identify as modern Orthodox than anywhere else in the region, according to a Jewish demographic study released Tuesday.
The Jewish population in the New York area grew by 9 percent over the last decade, reversing a longstanding trend of decline, the study found. But the growth did not affect all Jewish neighborhoods equally. Two-thirds of the rise was propelled by two deeply Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn with high birthrates — Williamsburg and Borough Park. Some of the city’s more affluent areas, like Brownstone Brooklyn and the Upper East Side, saw declines in their Jewish population, according to the study.
In ‘Little Poland,’ gentrification and an inclusive Orthodox rabbi with a garden are reviving Jewish life.
Until recently, Yoni Kretzmer, a disillusioned former Orthodox Jew spent most Friday evenings performing on his sax, while Jesse Beller, who describes himself as unaffiliated, would spend Friday nights at a friend’s house or a bar.
But last Friday night, the two were at Congregation Ahavas Israel, the only Orthodox synagogue — indeed, the only Jewish congregation of any type — in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn.
Kretzmer, who led the Kabbalat Shabbat service, chanting the liturgy like a veteran chazzan, and Beller are among a growing number of young Jews, most of whom identify as secular, who have moved to Greenpoint in the last decade and are active at Ahavas Israel.
Posted: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 5:17 pm | Updated: 5:23 pm, Wed May 8, 2013. on Home Reporter News By Theodore W. General Brooklyn’s official historian Ronald Schweiger was just elected as the 48th president of the Society of Old Brooklynites, which dates back to when Brooklyn was an independent city and the third largest in the nation. Schweiger, who is also the president of the Brooklyn College Alumni Association, joins a long list of… Read More »Ron Schweiger, new president of the Society of Old Brooklynites
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.
It is remarkable that Brooklyn has become synonymous with cultural ferment, artistic innovation and an unstoppable surge of gentrification that is attracting a growing horde of super achievers. Although these two strains of environment changers are often in conflict with one another, both are prospering, radically changing the reputation of the borough from what was once an object of both pride and ridicule to one of the most culturally dynamic places in America.
The fact that I no longer recognize it as ‘my Brooklyn’ does not in any way impugn its current significance, but looking at it from the vantage point of the Brooklyn of my childhood and youth, roughly within a sixteen year span from 1932 to 1948, I can only conclude that the present, despite its glorious trappings of culture and prosperity does not come close to the wonder, excitement and exultation that captured my adolescent soul and never let go of it.
I have recapitulated those old Brooklyn days in a number of my novels like Funny Boys, Banquet Before Dawn and the New York Echoes short story collections, which offer the most details of that halcyon experience, but allow me to open the spigot of memory with some brief images of that bygone moment of urban joy.
My life in Brooklyn was lived betwixt two neighborhoods, Brownsville and Crown Heights, both Jewish enclaves then. Irish and Italian neighborhoods were contiguous. Of course, there were other Brooklyn neighborhoods for every ethnic group under the sun, racial, national and religious. There were also wide economic and class distinctions easily identified by house sizes and the usual trappings of wealth.
In my Brooklyn days these other places seemed to reside in another country, perhaps another planet. We were very aware of our boundaries by look, smell, dress, religion and customs and we knew that when we crossed those lines we had invaded a somewhat hostile foreign land.
The first mikvah ever in Park Slope finally opened after more than five years of construction.
The three-story William and Betty Katz Center for Jewish Life, on 15th Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues, was celebrated with a grand ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday, drawing dozens of observant Jews and shutting down the street to traffic for several hours. The project has been controversial with neighbors since its inception.
A mikvah, which literally translates as “pool,” is a Jewish ritual bathhouse and an integral part of the religion, said Rabbi Shimon Hecht, leader of Congregation B’nai Jacob on Ninth Street. He also heads the Chabad of Brownstone Brooklyn, which built the mikvah.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said, adding that building a mikvah even takes precedence over building a house of worship.
The pristine, spa-like, facility is designed for observant Jews to partake in a ritual process of purification and cleansing, in a solitary and ultra private manner, by immersing themselves in specially constructed pools. The new mikvah has baths for men on the first floor and separate baths for women on the lower level. It’s available only by appointment.
“It’s a major component of the Jewish community,” he said. “You need a mikvah because Jewish purity is dependent on a mikvah. You cannot build a family without a mikvah. And if you don’t have a family then you cannot build a community.”