A la Karte: Boutique Kosher Catering

If you keep kosher, and you need to attend a business lunch in a non-kosher restaurant, what do you do? If you have a large family, and you are charged with cooking a kosher holiday meal for everyone, who can you call? If your family is Ashkefardic, and you would like to please all of their palates, who can cook authentically for both traditions? The answer is A la Karte Boutique Cuisine & Catering.

You don’t need to bring a brown bag to a lunch meeting in a non-kosher restaurant. Thanks to A la Karte, you may order something off the menu, and your dish will be kosher, while your lunch companions will get the regular restaurant fare. How is this possible? A la Karte has an arrangement with several restaurants in the Greater Philadelphia area to provide kosher versions of that particular restaurant’s cuisine. Of all of A la Karte’s boutique offerings, this one grabbed my attention the most.

IMG_0115With Rosh Hashanah approaching, many of us are planning a festive meal for our family and friends. It’s a lot of work! A la Karte is a wonderful resource. It is possible to order all of the traditional recipes from the extensive menu, no matter how large your group is. Best of all, A la Karte will deliver.

Ofelia Cohen, the proprietor of A la Karte, was born in Caracas, Venezuela. Coincidentally, I also grew up in Caracas, where the Jewish community was half Ashkenazi and half Sephardic. Both of us celebrated the Jewish holidays with Ashkenzi and Sephardic friends. We are used to serving foods from both traditions at our festive meals. A la Karte offers a unique menu for Rosh Hashanah, which features many of the foods, we remember enjoying during our childhood. You will find traditional Eastern European fare such as gefilte fish next to fiery North African chraime.

AaW_ic_L7mZg5z1rCVjHjyLTfGq5Chef Cohen trained as an architect before she fell in love with food. This background is put to good use in a service she calls tablescaping. For those who are too busy or artistically challenged to set a beautiful holiday table, Ofelia is available to take care of it.

She just signed a lease for a new location in Bala Cynwyd. A la Karte will be moving to the space currently occupied by Coopermarket, at 302 Levering Mill Road. Her vision is to create a prepared food kosher mini market. It will serve take out lunch or dinner, with eat-in option in a communal table. She hopes that guests of different walks of life have conversations there. She would like to see interactions between Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and totally secular Jews, all enjoying delicious kosher food together.

Philadelphia FIDF Gala to Honor Holocaust Survivors


Left to right: Lt. Gen. (Res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, executive director of the FIDF Pennsylvania & Southern N.J. region, Tzvia Wexler, and Ambassador Ron Prosor in last year’s national FIDF gala, New York.

Local Holocaust survivors and their families will be honored at this year’s Annual Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces (FIDF) Gala.

The gala will take place at 6 p.m. Monday, November 18, 2013 at Vie, 600 North Broad Street, Philadelphia. Tickets can be purchased at the gala’s website. Holocaust survivors who wish to take part may contact FIDF Pennsylvania and Southern N.J. executive director, Tzvia Wexler.

The theme of this year’s Gala is “From Holocaust to Independence,” and it will celebrate Israel’s 65 years of existence by saluting the survivors and remembering the struggles they overcame to build new lives, providing a future for the next generation.  

Former chief of the IDF general staff, Lt. General (Res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, will deliver an exclusive Keynote address.

More after the jump.
The FIDF was established in 1981 by a group of Holocaust survivors with the mission of providing and supporting educational, social, cultural, and recreational programs and facilities for the men and women of the IDF. Today, FIDF has more than 120,000 supporters, and 17 regional offices throughout the U.S. and Panama.

Prior to being appointed as the IDF’s chief of staff in 2007, Lt. General Ashkenazi has had an illustrious military career, that included:

  • Commander of Golani Brigade,
  • commander of liaison unit to Lebanon,
  • operations officer of Northern Command,
  • head of Israeli Northern Command, and
  • director general of Israeli Ministry of Defense.

In 2008, he was awarded the U.S. Legion of Merit by the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, on behalf of the President of the U.S. for enhancing U.S.-Israel relations.  

An Unknown Country: Documentary on Ecuador’s Jews

— by Ronit Treatman

Exotic, tropical Ecuador is a paradisaical destination for a romantic vacation. But who knew that it was also a refuge for Jews fleeing the Holocaust? They joined the Sephardic community, which had been there since the beginning of the Spanish colonization.

Emmy award-winning producer and writer Eva Zelig has been producing a new documentary about this community’s story, which is also that of her own family, for the last three years. The project was largely financed by a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter.  

Easy Sesame-Date Rosh Hashanah Strudel

— by Ronit Treatman

Would you like to impress your family and friends with an exotic strudel for Rosh Hashanah, that’s also economical and easy to make? Known as a traditional Viennese pastry, apple strudel originated with Romanian and Hungarian Jews as a food for the Jewish New Year. This recipe is a unique Israeli fusion of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Rosh Hashanah customs.

Dates are one of the simanim, or symbolic foods, of the Sephardic Rosh Hashanah Seder. The word for date in Hebrew is תמר “tamar,” which contains the verb תם “tam” (to end). In the Sephardic Rosh Hashanah Seder, dates are eaten with the prayer (below the jump) that our enemies be consumed. For this strudel, flaky puff pastry is layered with creamy sesame paste, crunchy walnuts, and velvety date puree. You can bake it yourself in a few easy steps. All you need is frozen puff pastry, Medjool dates, raw sesame paste, and chopped nuts.

Prayers and Full recipe after the jump.
Sesame-Date Strudel

  • 1 package frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 cup pitted Medjool dates  
  • 1 cup raw sesame paste
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 egg
  • Confectioner’s sugar for garnishing
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Place a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet.
  3. Process the pitted dates in a blender, with a bit of boiling water, until they form a thick paste.
  4. Unfold the puff pastry onto the parchment paper.
  5. Spread 1 cup of raw sesame paste on the pastry.
  6. Spread 1 1/2 cups of date paste over the sesame paste.
  7. Sprinkle the chopped walnuts over the date paste.
  8. Fold the pastry over the filling.
  9. Pinch the edges shut.
  10. Beat the egg with one tablespoon of cold water.
  11. Brush the pastry with the egg wash.
  12. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the strudel is golden-brown.
  13. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.

Prayers over dates

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלֹהינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָעֵץ
Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the tree.

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה’ אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁיִּתַּמּוּ אוֹיְבֵינוּ וְשׂוֹנְאֵינוּ וְכָל מְבַקְשֵׁי רָעָתֵנוּ
May it be Your will, Lord our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that there come an end to our enemies, haters and those who wish evil upon us.

Source: Chabad.

Is Your Jewish Family from Poland Originally From Spain?

— by Aaron Biterman

My family left northern Spain, likely around the time of expulsion in July of 1492. I am unsure what path they took to arrive in Poland, but oral tradition suggests that my Jewish family settled in the town of Hrubieszow in southeast Poland (near Lublin and Zamosc) by 1600. The surname they eventually adopted sounded much more Eastern European than Spanish. I talk more about the origins of the surname below. It’s possible my family was Ashkenazic and migrated west to Spain from another place, and then migrated back east after expulsion from Spain, but it seems more likely that they actually were Sephardic.

More after the jump.
Evidence that the family was Sephardic includes:

  • Dual Hebrew names (Yehuda Aryeh ben Yosef Tzvi) is a Sephardic practice. Ashkenazi tradition is “Yehuda ben Yosef.”
  • Concluding Shabbat davening with Ein Kelahaynu instead of Adan Olom is a Sephardic practice.
  • There may have been a synagogue in Hrubieszow before WWII which was Sephardic, where my ancestors prayed.
  • The family was religiously observant but not Hasidic even though the town they lived in (Hrubieszow) was a mostly Hasidic town.
  • There is an oral tradition of arrival in the area in Poland in the mid-1500s.

Jews had a very difficult time in Europe during the later portion of the Middle Ages. The beginnings of some of the behaviors of the Holocaust can be traced to the period in Europe from 1200 to 1500. Throughout Europe, the Jews were gradually confined in ghettos as the Middle Ages progressed. The first compulsory ones were established in Spain and Portugal at the end of the fourteenth century. Jewish ghettos existed in Madrid, Barcelona, Venice, Naples, Rome, Florence, Prague, and other European cities (Source: Jewish Displacement).

Beginning in the 8th century, Muslims had occupied and settled most of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain). Jews, who had lived in these regions since Roman times, were considered “People of the Book”‘ and given special status and often thrived under Muslim rule. The tolerance of the Muslim Moorish rulers attracted Jewish immigration, and Jewish enclaves in Muslim Iberian cities flourished as places of learning and commerce. Living conditions for Jews in al-Andalus became more difficult after the fall of the Muslim Umayyad Caliphate around the year 1030.

The Reconquista was the gradual reconquest of Islamic Iberia by the Catholic kingdoms with a powerful religious motivation: Iberia was being reclaimed for Christendom. By the 14th century, most of the Iberian Peninsula, present day Spain and Portugal, had been regained from the Moors. Overt hostility against Jews became more pronounced, finding expression in brutal episodes of violence and oppression. Thousands of Jews sought to escape these attacks by converting to Catholicism.

The Alhambra Decree (also known as the Edict of Expulsion) was an edict issued on March 31, 1492 by the joint Catholic Monarchs of Spain (Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon) ordering the expulsion of Jews from the Kingdom of Spain and its territories and possessions by July 31 of that year. The punishment for any Jew who did not convert or leave by the deadline was death. Scholars disagree about how many Jews left Spain as a result of the decree; the numbers vary between 130,000 and 800,000 (Source: Wikipedia).

Migration to Poland

Toward the end of the Middle Ages, Jews lived in 85 towns in Poland, totaling 18,000 — a mere .6 percent of the total population. But the 16th and the first half of the 17th century saw increased settlement and a relatively fast rate of natural population growth of Jews in Poland. Among the new arrivals there were not only the Ashkenazim banished from the countries belonging to the Hapsburg monarchy, but also Sephardim who were driven away from Spain and Portugal. Beginning in the middle of the 16th century, Jews started to settle in the countryside in larger numbers. During the hundred years of the 15th century, the Jewish Polish population exploded from about 15,000 to 150,000. In the middle of the 17th century there were 500,000 Jews living in Poland — five percent of the total population.

During the 15th and 16th centuries, Poland became the center for Jewish learning. Between 1501 and 1648, Jews intensified their economic activity. The primary sources of income for Jewish families were crafts and local trade. The rapid development of Jewish settlement and economic activity was accompanied by expansion of their self-government organization. As in the Middle Ages, every autonomous Jewish community was governed by its kahal — a collegiate body composed of elders elected as a rule from among the local wealthiest. The kahal organized funerals and administered cemeteries, schools, baths, slaughterhouses and the sale of kosher meat. In the closed “Jewish cities”, it also took care of cleanliness and order in the Jewish quarter and the security of its inhabitants. Administering charities such as the organization of hospitals and other welfare institutions and the dowering of poor brides were also taken on by citizens or organizations within these Jewish communities (Source: Mike Rosenzweig).

There was a period when members of the Sephardic middle class could establish themselves with some distinction in Poland. This most important page in the history of Sephardic Jews in Poland began with the reign of the Polish King Sigismund II Augustus (1529-1572). At that time, one of the most influential statesmen of the Ottoman Empire was Don Joseph Nasi, a Sephardic Jew who died in 1579 (Source: Alexander Beider).

In 1588, Polish Chancellor Jan Zamoyski established a special privilege allowing Sephardic Jews to live in his own newly founded private town of Zamosc. Many advantages were offered to those Sephardic Jews who decided to move there, which prompted a number of Sephardic families to migrate to the town. During the first part of the 17th century, new settlers generally came from Italy and Holland, according to Alexander Beider. Some of the Sephardic Jews left the area; others intermarried with Ashkenazic Jews. As a result, during the second half of the 17th century, Sephardic names do not appear in the historical documents of Zamosc and Lvov. The census of 1664 showed only 23 Jews in Zamosc, most Ashkenazic.

The presence of Sephardic families in the territory of Poland during the 16th to 18th centuries did not influence the surnames used by Polish Jews during the 19th and 20th centuries. The cultural fusion of foreign Sephardic Jews with local Ashkenazic Jews, who had lived in the same area for several centuries and were far more numerous, was rather rapid. The Sephardic Jews lost their language, and their descendants used Yiddish as the vernacular. They dropped their Sephardic names and were named according to local Ashkenazic patterns (Source: Alexander Beider).

Jews lived in Russia for centuries — sometimes welcomed and other times barely tolerated. Before 1500, Jews were permitted to live anywhere in Russia. As Russia’s western boundary moved west in the 1600s and 1700s, more Jews were annexed into a country which was intolerant of Jews. In the late 1700s, Catherine the Great decreed that Jews could only live in the territory along the western Russian border, known as the Pale of Settlement. In 1772, more Jews lived in the Pale than in the rest of Europe.

Prosperity continued until the second half of the 17th century, when a series of massacres by Cossacks ruthlessly killed Jews and Gentile Poles alike. Poland was then pummeled by another Cossack uprising, two invasions by Sweden, and a war with Turkey. In the 1700s, Poland was divided three ways, and the Jews of Poland fell under the rule of Russia, Germany, and Austria (Source: Jewish Displacement).

Surname Biterman

My family’s surname of Biterman could either have Eastern European or Sephardic origins. I talk more about it on my genetic genealogy page http://chelm.freeyellow.com/bi…