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Herta in elevator

We are very sad to announce the passing of Herta Bloch on December 24, 2015 at the age of 94. We feel fortunate to have met Herta a couple of years ago, and to have spent two lovely afternoons visiting her in her Washington Heights apartment, where she had lived for more than 50 years. One of those afternoons, we sat in her living room overlooking the Hudson River as she told us stories about her life — her youth in Germany, emigrating to the U.S., and stories about running her store Bloch & Falk with her husband, Alfred. She spoke in great detail about the store, and she could recall individual customers, even those she hadn’t seen in many decades. Our post about Bloch & Falk, which we published here in 2013, has had an overwhelming response – mostly from people who had shopped there and have very strong and wonderful memories of eating the wide variety of meats – (wursts and aufschnitt) that the store produced. There have been almost 150 comments to date, reflecting how unique and special the store was, both for the products it produced, as well as for the generosity and kindness of its owners. You can read that post HERE.

On our second visit with Herta, we spent an afternoon baking krokerle – chocolate-hazelnut spice cookies – in her kitchen. She was a gracious host, and we had a lovely time chatting and laughing. Afterwards, we crowded around her tiny kitchen table and had cookies and coffee. You can read that post HERE.

We are glad, too, to have met her children: Marion, Andrew, and Richard (now sadly deceased, but whom we had a phone conversation with several years ago and who introduced us to Herta in the first place), and their families. Our heartfelt condolences to them on their loss.

Thanks for sharing with us, Herta! May you rest in peace.

12/27/2015 [obituary from Riverside Memorial Chapel in NYC]
Herta Bloch, nee Wertheimer, was born in Kippenheim, Germany a town in the black forest area, with a population of 1800 and approximately 40 Jewish families. The family came to America on April 1st, 1938 and settled in Manhattan. She worked as a live-in maid so that her parents could rent out one of the rooms for extra income. She married Alfred Bloch on March 30th, 1946 after he returned home from the Army. They worked together everyday in the family kosher butcher shop, Bloch & Falk, which catered to the German Jewish population of Washington Heights. They had 3 children, Marion, Richard and Andrew. Richard passed away 2 years ago, on 12/27/13. Marion Cherson Bloch is married to David Cherson, and they have one daughter, Shoshana Cherson. Shoshana is engaged to André Dudkiewicz. Richard Bloch was not married at the time of his death and had no children. Andrew Bloch is married to Kathy Hayes-Bloch, and they have 2 children, Kiera Bloch and Evan Bloch. All but Richard are still living. Herta had a sister, Margot Kohn, who died on 10/16/12. Margot is survived by her husband Jacques Kohn, but they have no surviving children. Herta had a large network of extended family and friends that she kept very close contact with right to the end of her life. She had many first cousins, spread all over the US, England, Australia and Israel that she has maintained close ties with. She was extremely devoted to her family. Herta lived an exemplary life filled with humor, grit and resiliency, making the best of any life circumstance that came her way.

We are both honored and flattered by the article “Can German-Jewish Food be the next culinary trend?“, written by Wes Eichenwald for The Jewish Advocate, the Boston weekly newspaper. But more than that, we are so happy and appreciative to see our subject written about in a way that highlights its multiple angles – both culinary and cultural. The article is being published today, September 4, 2015, in the holiday issue of the newspaper — but you can also read a digital version of it on the Jewish Advocate’s website HERE .

In other news, we have been hard at work on the cookbook – writing and testing recipes, writing and testing recipes, writing and testing recipes, etc. You get the picture.

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 left (by Don Gropman): Sonya & Gaby in cooking mode; right: testing a trout recipe

My image of Bamberg began before I ever went there — starting with the black-and-white photo of the rivers and bridges and medieval buildings hanging in our New York City apartment during my childhood, and continuing with my father’s tales of the glories of his native city (and my birthplace) – all memories wrapped in lushness.

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[reproduction of medieval map of Bamberg]

 Close to the old medieval center of town is the Hain, a neighborhood of late 19th century mansions of light-colored stone, square and stolid. I saw it for the first time in 1973, when my father guided us to the places he had always talked about. He showed us the building on Hainstrasse where the Jewish social club (Ressource) had been located. In 1973, it was an insurance building. We actually went to the door to see if there was any indication of its previous incarnation. Nothing. Many of the builders and original owners of these homes were Jewish; they were hop merchants and factory owners. The Dessauer family was one of those and number 4a Hainstrasse is the address of the Villa Dessauer, which today houses the  Municipal Museum of Bamberg.

When Hitler came to power the Villa was inhabited by the Pretzfelders, Jewish descendants of the Dessauers. In 1939, while the Pretzfelders were still living there, #4a became a “Jew House” (Judenhaus).  The Jews of Germany no longer had any rights as citizens. They were removed from their own homes into group quarters. My grandparents were relocated there from their own long-time residence, as well as numerous other Jewish people. They had been friends with the Pretzfelders and one can only imagine the psychic and physical impact of such a dislocation. By late 1942, all these people had been deported to their various fates in ghettos and death camps and none of them survived. After the War, the Villa became the America House, a part of the U.S. Government whose job it was to re-educate German citizens with democratic principles. After the Americans gave it up, the Villa became the Municipal Museum.                                                           IMG_0481  IMG_3202

 [left and right, interior of Villa Dessauer, Bamberg, 2013]

In 1991, I had an exhibit of my artwork there, along with three other American artists. My work was titled “In Search of the Lost Object”. It was a multi-media installation in several rooms of the Museum, and it was about the fate of our Jewish Bamberg family — those of us who survived, and those who didn’t. Since my grandparents, who were deported to a camp east of Lublin in April, 1942, had resided and suffered in this building, my show was full of ghosts and my mind was filled with imagined scenarios. It was the most powerful experience of my life as an artist.

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[left, Chriss Fiebig and Gaby in Bamberg, 1990; right, Chriss’ bookplate]

During a trip to Bamberg in 1990 to prepare for the exhibit, Sonya and I met Chriss Fiebig. She was a striking woman with blonde hair pulled back into a tight bun, piercing blue eyes set in an angular face and a deep laugh. Chriss was a fierce advocate of all things Jewish in Bamberg. She felt certain that her grandmother had been Jewish and she adopted Judaism as her identity. She learned Hebrew and married a religious Jewish man in Paris, where she had gone to become a model. When the marriage failed, she returned to Bamberg. Chriss was active in more ways than I can say: in restoring the Jewish cemetery; in giving tours to visiting Jews and gentiles alike; in teaching about Judaism to seminarians; in leading interfaith services, and on and on. She became my guide and mentor in Bamberg and I will always be grateful to her for her combination of warmth and shrewdness. When an expanded version of my show was at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City in 1994, we invited Chriss to join a panel that also included Reb Zalman Schacter-Shalomi and the Reverend James Morton, then Dean of the Cathedral, to talk about Jews in Germany today. For me, Chriss was a cheerleader, guide, and a dear friend.

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[Gaby, with art work at Villa Dessauer, 2013. Top, “White Dove”; all others, details of “Document Wall”] 

 In November, 2013, the two pieces from the 1991 show that the Museum had acquired were to be exhibited again as part of a large historic exhibit called “Jüdisches in Bamberg” (Jewish Life in Bamberg). (the exhibit is up until June 1, 2014.) It was very sad that Chriss was not there for this show — she died quite suddenly in 2004. She is buried in the Jewish cemetery in Bamberg. Regina Hanemann, the Director of the museum, guided the process of this show over a period of years. She is sensitive to all aspects and she was a generous and caring guide to Sonya and me during our one-week stay in Bamberg. Among other things, Regina is aware of our interest in the food history of German-Jews. She pointed out the berches       (bear-ches) bakeries in Bamberg and had fresh berches from one of those bakeries at the reception, in our honor. It was very moist and chewy, the way it used to be in New York when I was growing up.

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 [Berches served at opening reception of “Juedisches in Bamberg”, Villa Dessauer, Bamberg, November, 2013]

The new exhibit traces the history of Jews in that city. Included are artifacts, photographs, portraits, written material, art work and videos. Looking at the intervening 19 years, there has been a massive change.  The show curated by a young historian, Timo Saalmann , reflects the amount of academic interest there is today in all things Jewish in Germany. The preservation of memories and historical information is a driving motivation. I was pleased to be able to speak at the opening to a packed audience, in bad German, about the changes I have witnessed, and about my family’s ongoing connection to Bamberg.

— Gaby

 

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Krokerle 

Ours is a story of continuity and discontinuity – a story of community and people within that community. For me (Gaby), the story takes place in a visually stunning setting, one in which the cliffs of the Palisades of New Jersey tumble straight down to the Hudson River with the iconic George Washington Bridge spanning the scene. In my mind’s eye, I can also see the blue lights of Bill Miller’s Riviera, a nightclub that clung to the top of the cliff directly across from my apartment building in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood, until it closed in 1953. The lights screamed out (it is easy to get dramatic with memory) and illuminated the night sky. My apartment building was a few doors down the hill from Herta’s — though I didn’t meet her until many years later — and I walked this hill twice a day every day of my childhood, because we came home for lunch from grammar school in those days. That view is burned into my brain so much so that the imagery has entered my artwork. It is always a wild trip to return here, where all the buildings and streets remain the same.

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Gaby visiting Washington Heights, 2013

In the here-and-now we cling to the mundane, and yet our tale is far from mundane.  We are visiting Herta Bloch, who had her 92nd birthday in June. She is almost a generation older than me (even though I am starting to feel like I belong to the oldest generation).  “What can you do about age? Accept it” she says. Charging around her beautiful apartment with a majestic view of the Hudson and George Washington Bridge, Herta is bright-eyed, cheerful and vibrant. Time has been good to her. We are here to learn how to bake Krokerle – a cookie that is unique to her German-Jewish family. It was baked by her mother and exists in Herta’s archive of family recipes.

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Herta Bloch, 2013

We are surprised – and find it hilarious – when Herta says: ‘I have never made these cookies before.” We came to learn from an old master, only to discover that it is her first time! In fact, we learn that the recipe skipped a generation, passing from grandmother to granddaughter — and it is Marion, Herta’s daughter, who bakes the Krokerle in the family. On second thought, we decide that this is great! It adds to the “living quality” of the food, that the old-timer is learning to bake her mother’s recipe for the first time.

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Herta’s German measuring cup that converts weight to volume

Herta carries within her the traditions and the food of the culture we are exploring, yet she is a thoroughly modern woman. As a young immigrant in New York City, she worked as a nanny for many years, often being exploited and overworked. She met her man, who then went off to war for three years. When he returned and they married, she worked in the kosher butcher and sausage shop they owned, Bloch & Falk, while also raising three children. More on the shop and sausages to come in another post, coming soon.                                                                                                                -Gaby

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Krokerle  Makes 45-65 cookies (adapted from Herta and Marion Bloch)

This recipe produces confections with a wonderful combination of chocolate, spice and a rich nutty flavor, but they are not overly rich as they don’t contain dairy or oil. The clove may be substituted with another spice if desired, such as nutmeg or cinnamon. One other note, the size of  the cookies is variable as desired, dropped either by the teaspoonful or tablespoonful. The Bloch family traditionally made Krokerle for Channukah, but they are delightful any time of year.

For Krokerle:

4 eggs

1 ½ cups sugar

2 ¾ cup all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon ground clove

¼ cup Dutch-process cocoa

¼ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons brandy (or whiskey)

8 ounces hazelnuts, skinned* and coarsely chopped *(see note below for instructions on skinning hazelnuts)

For Lemon Glaze:

1 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted

1 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1)   Mix eggs and sugar with a whisk until light and foamy.

2)   In a separate bowl, sift dry ingredients together and add to egg and sugar mixture. Stir to combine. Add liquor and nuts, stir to combine.

3)   Drop by the spoonful (either teaspoon or tablespoon) onto greased cookie sheets and place about 2” apart.

4)   Bake 10-15 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack.

5)   While the Krokerle are baking, make the glaze: Combine the confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice and stir until smooth. Add a drop of water if it is too thick.

6)   While the Krokerle are still warm, drizzle each one with a small spoonful of lemon glaze. Let cool.

Note: To skin hazelnuts: Spread the nuts on a cookie sheet and toast in a 350° F for about 10 minutes, or until you start to smell them. Be careful not to let them burn. Immediately remove from oven and spread them on a clean kitchen towel. Wrap the corners of the towel over the top and let sit for a few minutes – the steam will help loosen the skins. Roll the nuts around in the towel, unwrap and most of the nuts will be skinless.

Last month I spent time in the gorgeous old neighborhood of Lichterfelde in Berlin. Very substantial three story buildings erected by a thriving bourgeoisie in the first decade of the 20th century.  I was there to conduct a mediation training with my colleagues and friends Dirk and Ljubjana at their institute Inmedio. One of the evenings the trainers, some friends, and mediation trainees gathered for a “Fireside Chat” – an evening event they hold regularly. That evening I was making a presentation about our German-Jewish food project, a topic that loosely fits into one of the themes that preoccupies the Institute, the theme of dialogue. Speaking to a young German audience about the food culture of Jews who were historically German becomes an exploration of the interconnectedness between German-Jews and Germans. Dialogue is built into this conversation.

[ left: Gaby speaking with the group; right: Ljubjana and Gaby [photos courtesy: Cynthia Petrigh]

Germany has done a good job of teaching the Holocaust, perhaps too good. Sitting before me was a group of progressive people, all pursuing socially aware professions, whose vision of a Jewish person is inextricably connected with genocide committed by their ancestors. Most of them do not personally know any Jews. I was telling them that, although the Jewish community disappeared from Germany, a minority of us survived elsewhere, scattered across the globe. In my case, it was the 20,000 member German-Jewish community of Washington Heights in Manhattan where I grew up – which was large enough to continue the food culture of the old country. In addition, there were thousands more  refugees from German-speaking Europe scattered around the New York area, with concentrations in the Upper West Side of Manhattan and Queens.

left: Gaby slicing and serving Berches; right: eating Berches  [photos courtesy Cynthia Petrigh]

I showed a Power Point presentation of images of German-Jewish life in New York in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. And I spoke about the food, touching upon Jewish food traditions such as Kosher law and special dishes for Shabbos and holidays. And also about German dishes that were tweaked to conform to Jewish law. Today, Jewish food in Germany is represented by Jews who have settled there post-war – primarily from Eastern Europe – whose food is quite different from that of the Jews of Germany before the war. I was speaking not only about Jewish cooking, but specifically German-Jewish Cooking. This was something that was hard for them to wrap their heads around because it virtually stopped existing in Germany after the war. That is one of the main reasons why Sonya and I are working on this project, to bring recognition of this food tradition and its culture back into the world.

I had baked two loaves of Berches the day before in Dirk and Ljubjana’s large kitchen overlooking the wooded garden (Berches is the German-Jewish version of Challah – a braided ceremonial bread made without eggs, often including potatoes in the dough). The bread was to be served with other foods as part of a cold buffet after my presentation.  But before we began eating, I decided to make a traditional Friday night prayer over the bread. I said the brucha and then tore some of the bread into small pieces and handed it out to everyone. I wanted to emphasize the blessed nature of this bread, whose very name Berches is said to derive from the Hebrew word for blessing, Baruch. I explained that this bread was not only eaten during Jewish holidays, but also every single week during Shabbos. Then I sliced the bread and we all ate it with the accompanying spread of cheeses, cold cuts, hummus, guacamole, olives and grapes. Everyone thought the Berches was delicious and I received many “thank you’s” at the end of the evening for introducing people to this forgotten taste and tradition.

Note: unfortunately I did not get any close-up photos of the Berches I made in Berlin. The shot above is of a Berches I made in October in a bread pan – it is unbraided, but made of the same dough.

-Gaby

We are pleased to announce that we will be doing a tasting of some of our recipes of German-Jewish food that will be paired with a tasting of German wines! This event will take place at the lovely neighborhood wine shop Table Wine in Jackson Heights (Queens), New York City. Very easy to reach by subway (or by car) if you are in the NYC area.

GERMAN-JEWISH FOOD & GERMAN WINE TASTING

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 20TH, 2012

4-7PM

 at

TABLE WINE

79-14 37th Avenue (between 79th + 80th Streets)

Jackson Heights, NY 11372

(718) 478-9463

Click here for subway directions and a map of the neighborhood. If you are in the area please stop by to taste what we’ve cooked up, peruse the marvelous selection of wines and spirits in the shop and say hello. We’d love to meet you!

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