Brooklyn Boro

Faith In Brooklyn for Sept. 24

September 24, 2015 By Francesca Norsen-Tate, Religion Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Sarina Roffé, pictured with her new cookbook, “Backyard Kitchen,” and some salad samples from one of her recipes. Brooklyn Eagle Photo by Francesca N. Tate
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Jewish Cuisine, Humor and History at the Brooklyn Book Festival

Last Sunday’s Brooklyn Book Festival offered a definite flavor on faith and spirituality. The Brooklyn Jewish Historical Initiative’s booth was bustling with people curious about Jewish humor, architecture, history and, of course, food.

Professor Joseph Dorinson was promoting his upcoming book “Kvetching and Shpritzing: Jewish Humor in American Popular Culture.”

Sarina Roffé, cook, author and teacher, promoted her new book “Backyard Kitchen: Mediterranean Salads.” Roffé is also author of recipes in the “New York Times Jewish Cookbook” and Joan Nathan’s “Jewish Cooking in America.”  Ellen Levitt was discussing her series on the “The Lost Synagogues” of New York City.

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“Kvetching and Shpritzing: Jewish Humor in American Popular Culture” By Professor Joseph Dorinson Publisher: McFarland & Company, Inc. Upcoming release: Fall 2015

Professor Joseph Dorinson teaches history at Long Island University. He has always been fascinated with humor, ever since his youth. His new book marries his profession with his interest.

“This was long in coming. I’ve worked on Jewish humor for quite some time. It started as a kid, because I was always [the] class clown. I learned that it was therapeutic to laugh at one’s struggles,” Dorinson said.

He told the Brooklyn Eagle on Sunday, “The Jews have had a survival mechanism — it’s one of the key features of the book — to laugh at one’s problems is a way to deal with them, if not overcome them. I looked at how American humor changed because of the Jewish humor influence. The most important influence came from the Catskills, which was a training ground.”

Dorinson was part of the 2013 movie “When Comedy Went to School.” The film, which Robert Klein narrated, has several other famous comedians appearing as themselves: Jerry Lewis, Sid Caesar, Jackie Mason, Larry King, Jerry Stiller, Jerry Lewis and Dick Gregory.

Dorinson said he “was one of two historians called upon to offer background and even tell a few jokes.”

“Kvetching and Shpritzing” is “a labor of love,” he said. “We were a nation of immigrants and Brooklyn was the exemplar. We have more foreign-born living in Brooklyn than in any other place in the world.”

It’s important to note that while “Kvetching and Shpritzing” stresses Jewish humor, it has several chapters on African-American humor.

“I compare the two, because both groups were massively under-appreciated and often the target of bigots. So they use humor in similar ways,” Dorinson said. “I show how there is a set of jokes that blacks and Jews use interchangeably; and that certain Jewish comedians like Lenny Bruce, who transformed American comedy, inspired black comedians to follow, particularly Dick Gregory, Red Foxx and, most importantly, Richard Pryor.

“Two chapters in the book deal with the influence and the cross-fertilization of Jewish and African-American humor. I hope people will read it and enjoy it. It was not written for a scholarly audience per se. I wanted to broaden the base.”

Dorinson added, “I think one of the failures of my profession — historian — it’s sort of incestuous. We marry within and we write within. I think the reason we’ve lost the number of majors in college is that we don’t tell the story in narrative form that pulls you in instead of repels you. I hope this book will show the influence of humor.”

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“Backyard Kitchen: Mediterranean Salads” by Sarina Roffé, © 2015 Facebook: SarinasSephardicCuisine

Many people are familiar with the Ashkenazic Jews of Eastern Europe. But “who are the Sephardic Jews,” someone unfamiliar with this term might ask.

Cook, author and teacher Sarina Roffé joyfully explained, “Sephardic Jewry refers to the ethnic aspect. Sephardic Jews are the ones who settled in the Mediterranean Basin and Middle East. The Mediterranean Basin would include the North African nations of Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Egypt. There are other regions, too, including Bulgaria.”

Roffé recalls that her grandmother Esther Cohen Salem could not read or write. But she was a gifted cook. Roffé’s grandparents, Esther and Selim, converted their backyard into a commercial kitchen and began a catering business, all the while active in the Syrian Jewish community in Brooklyn.

“When my mother got married, she needed to write down the recipes. So she sat with my grandmother and wrote the ingredients to the recipes,” Roffé said. “But when I got them, there were no directions. So I had to sit with my mom and learn to make all of the recipes, and write down the actual directions. So, what you see is the product of three generations of women putting together recipes that my grandmother knew out of her head.”

Most of the recipes in “Backyard Kitchen” are vegetarian, although there is a fish-based recipe as well. Her favorites are the avocado recipes.

“I also include in the cookbook some things that are really simple like tuna fish,” she said. “I thought, you know people who don’t how to make salads — I’ve never seen a cookbook that had a recipe for tuna fish. You assume that people know how to make things. I really wanted this to be something easy that you could pick up, even if you have no experience cooking.”

Interestingly, on the night of the Book Festival, Sept. 20, a film on the life of Esther Cohen Salem and the Syrian Jewish community in Bensonhurst was released.

Proceeds from the book go to the Sephardic Heritage Project, dedicated to Sephardic history and genealogy.

Roffé also teaches cooking classes and demonstrations for Hadassah on various aspects of Sephardic cuisine.

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“The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn” By Ellen Levitt; Avotaynu Press, 2009

Ellen Levitt was promoting and teaching about her book series on “The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn” and “The Lost Synagogues of Manhattan,” as well as other volumes. The book on Brooklyn’s synagogues came first, she explained. Many of these have been converted into churches. The book gives the histories of about 90 former synagogues, with the cover photo being Independent Chevra Spard of Perryslaw, which is now the Brooklyn Christian Center. Levitt’s book also includes articles and interviews with people who had been members of those congregations.

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Introduction to Judaism  Course Offered

A group of synagogues in Brownstone Brooklyn are co-sponsoring the popular course “Introduction to Judaism:  An Exploration for Curious Adults.”

Rabbi Sue Oren, coordinator and instructor, has for many years offered this 20-session course on Jewish life, thought and practice. It gives participants the chance to “Discover Judaism from an adult perspective, become a more confident parent of Jewish children and explore long-standing questions that you haven’t yet asked.”

The course will provide a warm and open environment, in which to explore Jewish thought, prayer and practice, learn about Jewish history and holidays, wrestle with inherited texts and contemporary issues and discuss Jewish views of God, ethics, life and death.

The curriculum is designed to provide access to concepts, vocabulary and observances that are central to Judaism.  Participants will explore the holy and the historical, inherited texts and contemporary issues and rhythms of the calendar and of life in this seminar-style course.  

Class meets from 7:30-9:30 p.m. in two sections: Thursdays at East Midwood Jewish Center (Ocean Avenue between K and L avenues) or Sundays at Park Slope Jewish Center (Eighth Avenue and 14th Street) The first session for everyone will take place on Thurs, Oct 15 at the East Midwood Jewish Center.

The course tuition is $400, plus a $25 materials fee. For registration and questions, contact Rabbi Sue Oren at [email protected].

Co-sponsoring congregations include: Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, Congregation Mount Sinai, East Midwood Jewish Center, Kane Street Synagogue, Kolot Chayeinu/Voices of Our Lives, Park Slope Jewish Center, Temple Beth Emeth v’Ohr Progressive Shaarei Zedek and Union Temple.

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Catholic Charismatic ‘Life in the Spirit’ Seminar

The Living Water Charismatic Prayer Group of Our Lady of the Presentation-Our Lady of Mercy is sponsoring a “Life in the Spirit” seminar on learning and receiving the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Titled “Come Holy Spirit,” the five-week seminar series runs on Tuesdays through October.

Our Lady of the Presentation Church is at 1677 St. Marks Ave. (Eastern Parkway and Rockaway Avenue). Call 718-345-2604 for more information.

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‘Sex in the City’ Sermon Series

Mosaic Baptist Church in Crown Heights has tackled a daring and important sermon series on “Sex in the City.”

Lead Pastor Stephen Stallard and Pastor Woodley Victor preach this series, which started on Sept. 20 with “God Created Sex,” a clear overview of the “positive vision” with which God is believed to have created intimacy between a man and woman.

The series continues each Sunday through Oct. 25, during 4 p.m. worship, on these topics: “Drunk with Love,” “Sex and Singles,” “All About Desire,” “LGBT: What Would Jesus Do?” and concluding with “Sex and the Gospel.”

Mosaic Baptist Church, an intentionally diverse church, worships every Sunday at Mt. Joy Baptist Church, 761 Park Place, between Rogers and Nostrand avenues in Crown Heights.


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