Manischewitz Wine & Kosher Coke: Part of Brooklyn’s Jewish heritage
It’s no secret that Brooklyn boasts one of the largest Jewish communities in the country.
One can see Brooklyn’s vast Jewish influence by strolling down the streets of Borough Park or Ocean Parkway and viewing the many Orthodox synagogues, kosher restaurants and Hebrew signs.
The 2011 Jewish Community Study of New York presented by the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) Federation of New York found that nearly one in every four Brooklynites is Jewish.
According to that same study, there were as many as 561,100 Jews in the borough as of 2011.
In the study, UJA writes “Brooklyn has experienced substantial Jewish population growth since 2002. Over the past nine years, the number of Jews in the borough has increased 23 percent and the number of people in Jewish households has increased 18 percent.”
With such a high Jewish population in Brooklyn and with Passover commencing on April 22, the Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) has decided to host an event at 6:30 p.m. on April 12 called “Man-O-Manischewitz: Brooklyn’s Wine in a Kosher USA.”
Roger Horowitz, a food historian and author of “Kosher USA: How Coke Became Kosher and Other Tales of Modern Food” will reveal the Brooklyn origins of Manischewitz wine at the event and he will detail how the sweet drink has not only become a staple of the Seder table but also an essential part of Brooklyn.
The Brooklyn Eagle spoke with Horowitz in an exclusive interview on Thursday to discuss the wine’s Brooklyn roots.
“Brooklyn was the pivot for the making of Manischewitz wine,” Horowitz told the Eagle. “The Monarch wine company made Manischewitz wine throughout its entire history in Brooklyn from 1939 until the company was sold in 1986.”
Horowitz says that Monarch moved to the Bush Terminal Market—which is now Industry City—in 1939 after a brief stint in Soho in Manhattan.
“Monarch leased 20,000 square feet at first,” said Horowitz. “By 1954 the space had grown to 100,000 square feet which reflects the increased demand for the wine. The wine was successful in part because Monarch was a manufacturer in the thriving industrial base of Brooklyn in the mid 20th century,” Horowitz continued.
The food historian says that Monarch helped the Brooklyn economy immensely.
“Monarch contributed to the employment and the economy in Brooklyn as well,” Horowitz told the Eagle. “They employed local people to work in the winery throughout their history.
“They hired local truck drivers and paid local businesses for supplies for bottles, labels and for everything else,” Horowitz continued. “They were an important supporter of the Brooklyn economy.”
Horowitz explained how the grapes arrived in Brooklyn.
“The Brooklyn market was a great location for many firms because it was advantageous to transportation, and that’s why Monarch moved there,” said Horowitz. “Monarch got grapes from upstate New York that were then loaded onto the New York Central railcars that go through the grape region.
“The grapes then came down the Hudson River and they moved along the East side of the Hudson, and they came through the Bronx and Queens by train before arriving in Brooklyn,” Horowitz continued. “The fermenting process then took place in huge 50,000-gallon tanks in Brooklyn.”
Horowitz told the Eagle that Manischewitz became the first branded kosher product that crossed over into a mostly non-Jewish consumer base. Horowitz says the wine was extremely popular with African Americans and that popular black musicians, comedians and actors endorsed the drink in the 1950s and 1960s.
Horowitz provided the Eagle with a preview to his talk at BHS.
“In the talk I will explain why Manischewitz was such a successful kosher product. I will contend that Manischewitz was the first kosher cross over product in American history. It was successful with non-Jewish consumers a generation before Hebrew National hot dogs.”
More information on “Man-O-Manischewitz: Brooklyn’s Wine in a Kosher USA” is available at www.brooklynhistory.org.
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