Being Jewish in New York City

Growing up in Southern California, outside of the L.A. area, it seemed to me that New York was where the “Real” Jews lived–at least in the United States. It almost seemed like the non-Jews that I met who were from New York were kind of Jewish too. I have always been enamored of New York, travelled there as often as possible and imagined myself a “City girl” in my younger days. It is somewhat ironic that I chose to settle in Wai’anae on the leeward coast of Oahu. So not the city life and not a lot of Jews!

It turned out to be a bit fortuitous that I married a nice Jewish guy who has a slight New York accent when he makes the occasional pidgin comment and who loves living in Hawaii as much as I do. I get the best of all worlds right in my own home in Kapolei. But we like to step off the island and visit the Continent when we get the chance.

My husband grew up near the City in New York. Several of his family members still live there and we recently embraced the opportunity to visit with them and Manhattan for a few days.

We did not plan our itinerary much in advance. We set out each day with a destination in mind and discovered the area by foot and by mouth. We knew that wherever we went, whatever we did and whatever we saw would be interesting. We were in New York for goodnness’ sake.

Some people travel to the Big Apple for the culture-we went to a museum. Other people go for the theater- we went to a play. A lot of tourists want to see the historic sites–we did that too. But none of those were our main objectives as we walked the streets of Lower Manhattan, SoHo, Greenwich Village, the Lower East Side and Times Square. Our priorities-besides spending time with family-were about food.

When I mention these food prioritites we are not talking about fine dining experiences in exclusive restaraunts with celebrity chefs. Our list is derived from the memories of my husband’s youth. We lean more towards the food cart variety, diners or meals that you walk up to a counter and order and hope to find a place to sit down while you eat.

The stars in this food search production of ours were: pizza, hot dogs and a corned beef sandwich. Minor roles included a chocolate egg cream, a falafel (for me) and anything else we could manage to add in on the side.

From my perspective, we were very successful.
Our first night we had pizza in Hoboken. It was good, but my husband was looking for the pizza we had our second day in the Village.



We ordered buffalo wings at a bar on Bleeker Street and washed them down with a few beers while we listened to Bruce Springsteen in the background.


One of the main events was our trip to Katz’s deli on the Lower East Side. We indulged ourselves in the best corned beef sandwich I have ever had, a potato knish and my husband had the requisite Dr. Brown’s black cherry soda.




I haven’t had good cappuccino in Hawaii so I ordered it on this trip as much as possible. One afternoon I indulged in an iced cappuccino with a scoop of ice cream at Le Petit Cafe in Greenwich Village. I wish I could go back right now for another one. And of course I ordered it when we had breakfast in Little Italy which is not as big as it used to be!



And of course we made it to a diner, or two or three. At the Brooklyn diner in Times Square I ordered a tuna salad sandwich- not for the tuna, but because it came on grilled challah. The only time I get to eat challah in Hawaii is when we go to Erev Shabbat services at Temple. I don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere where it was featured on a restaurant menu. Dare I say that it was heavenly. My husband had a Reuben sandwich-featuring a stack of corned beef that rivaled any of the delis I love–Katz’s or Canter’s.



And here’s the other Reuben that we adore. We did not eat him, but I had to share his photo because he is so cute.


Bat Mitzvah blintzes

When I showed  our almost 13-year-old daughter the menu I’d planned for the Kiddush lunch scheduled after her Bat Mitzvah and she asked me, “What’s a blintz?” I was shocked.

“You’ve never had a blintz?” I asked her. Impossible. What kind of Jewish mother has raised a child so close to becoming a Bat Mitzvah who has never tasted or even heard of a blintz? “Oy Vei!” The shame! The guilt! Especially since it was a favorite of her late grandfather, Theodore L. Gershun.

This is when I realized that there was some major culturalizing to be done. Never heard of a blintz????

I am proud to say that even in this Island culture where pork is the main dish at every luau and the Asian influence is more  mainstream than  influence, my children are no strangers to  Jewish foods.

There is Challah on the Kiddush table after services every Friday night.

They make Hamantashen at Sunday school.

We’ve been to Jewish delis in both L.A. and New York, so they know a good corned beef sandwich and an authentic kosher pickle when they taste them.

I’m a huge fan of falafel and humus and pita, so the Middle Eastern influence has been served up right at our dinner table.

And there’s plenty of holiday cooking in this house. We have not been remiss in that department.

She’s just never had a blintz.

When I was planning the menu for that particular meal, I had several goals in mind. First of all, I wanted it to be what we call a dairy meal, which translates to no meat in any of the dishes. Fish is okay, but beef or lamb or chicken are not. Certainly not pork or shellfish.

In the kosher style, we do not mix milk and meat.

I also wanted it to be what I consider kind of traditional.

While Mainlanders might get tired of another buffet with bagels and cream cheese and tuna and egg salad, that doesn’t happen around here very often. I miss it.

What I am tired of is a meal that consists of toss (omit the ed,) salad, macaroni salad, rice, fried noodles, teriyaki chicken and Mahi Mahi. That’s pretty much the mainstay of most catered meals I consume around here.

That’s why I chose bagels  and cream cheese and humus and pita and veggies and…….blintzes.

A few months before the big event I was in California for a reunion. I also got to celebrate my childhood friend Kathy’s 4?th birthday. We enjoyed a Sunday brunch buffet on the Queen Mary in Long Beach.

To my extreme excitement, among the other 173 choices, there were blintzes. I immediately got out my phone. Took a picture and texted it to my daughter who was at home in Hawaii. While her response of “K” seemed a bit nonplussed, I was consoled at the opportunity to give her a digital heads up that these things really do exist.

Her grandfather loved them  and they even serve them on the QUEEN MARY.  Her Royal Highness had my back.

The other thing I realized when I was going over the menu for this incredibly important celebration in our family life was that perhaps I should let the Bat Mitzvah girl have a bit of input in our choices.

This was, after all, HER rite of passage. While I was not inclined to remove the blintzes from the menu, I was certainly happy to include a request or two from her. They turned out to be reasonable: lox and cake. She loves lox and really wanted cake for dessert.

Considering the hours of studying she was putting in each day, the hours of driving back and forth to the Temple we were both traveling for her study sessions with the Cantor and Rabbi and the not so delicious meals we were consuming in transit, lox and cake seemed a fair reward for a job well done.

Not to mention the incredible satisfaction and connection and pride and all the other delicious feelings that go with this special moment.

And it  was a special moment,  a celebration, sharing our culture’s food as a symbol of our joy. My father’s blintzes, the Bat Mitzvah girl’s cake and a Jewish Mother’s love and pride in a daughter, and a menu,  carefully prepared for such an important day in our family and community’s lives.