I grew up in a very Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. There was nothing really special about it and I’m sure that there are hundreds of neighborhoods just like it all over the US but it was home to me.
My apartment building had 90 units in it. That means that 89 other families lived in the building along with my family. The building was a neighborhood onto itself.
About 95% of the people living in the building were Jewish, possibly more than that. The super wasn’t Jewish. I knew that at a young age because every Christmas my mother would take my sister and myself into his apartment so he and his wife could show off their Christmas tree and give us candy canes.
But mostly the building was a Jewish community. We even had a leader. His name was Mr. Brovendar. I’m positive that Mr. and Mrs. Brovendar had first names but this was our leader and his wife and everyone called them Mr. and Mrs. Brovendar. Never anything else. Never. Even my parents called them Mr. and Mrs. Brovendar.
The building looked to Mr. Brovendar to let us know exactly when the Jewish holidays started and ended, especially the Jewish New Year. He would blow his shofar the minute the holiday started and the minute it ended.
For those who don’t know, a shofar is a type of trumpet made from the horn of a ram (male sheep). It is mentioned more than 70 times in the Old Testament of the Bible, and is blown by Jews as part of the observance of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah.
But when it came to the Passover holiday, the building knew that it was coming because we could all hear Mrs. Brovendar chopping up all the fish to make her famous Gefilte Fish.
The Brovendars lived on the second floor, right across the alley from our first floor apartment. Mrs. Brovendar started chopping the fish early in the morning and continued chopping all afternoon. Then during the evening she would cook the fish. Everyone stood by their window trying to breath in the delicious aroma of the fish cooking.
Now don’t expect to ever see a gefilte swimming around in the ocean or a lake. You can’t catch it with a fishing rod either. Gefilte fish is a Jewish snack made of ground fish (carp, mullet, whitefish, pike), egg whites, matzoh meal (wheat flour and water), onions and salt. Usually served chilled, sometimes with horseradish. It’s best with horseradish. My mom used to serve it with lettuce and carrots.
Not all Jewish people make their own gefilte fish. It’s hard work and so much easier to buy a jar of Manischewitz gefilte fish. Gefilte fish from a jar is mighty good but no where near as good and Mrs. Brovendar’s.
Honestly, gefilte fish is somewhat of an acquired taste. It’s kind of strange in a way and not all people like it, not even all Jews, but I love it. Once you get used to the taste there’s nothing better. I was lucky. I was born adoring gefilte fish. It’s so good.
My very young years are filled with memories of my family, my neighborhood, my building, and the sound of Mrs. Brovendar chopping the fish to make her famous gefilte fish.
It’s surprising how a certain noise or a smell brings back all those memories.
To see more of my childhood memories go to S.A.K. Remembers on my blog.