This year’s annual Chanukah bazaar at Congregation Or Ve Shalom, the Sephardic synagogue on North Druid Hills Road in Brookhaven, welcomed one of the largest crowds in its history. The synagogue’s parking lot was closed to most visitors shortly after the 11 a.m. opening. Parking spaces on surrounding streets were also in short supply.
The slow-moving line for the Sephardic lunch snaked around the crowded social hall as the patient but hungry crowd waited 30 minutes or more to savor the traditional Mediterranean menu. And, if you didn’t pre-order take-out of the burekas, the savory pastries that the synagogue’s Sisterhood prepare each Tuesday and freeze for the annual event, you could be out of luck.
They also sold out of thousands of the Sephardic snacks that had been stocked away, although as a consolation, you could still pick up a sack of bunelos, the traditional Chanukah treat. It once was a familiar sight at this time of year in the Jewish community of Turkey or the island of Rhodes, off the coast of Greece, where many of the early congregants of the synagogue were born.
And if the food was traditional, so was the participation of some of the synagogue’s older congregants. Eighty-five-year-old Albert Baroccas was wearing his red and blue Super Sephardic Superman T-shirt as he helped out in the main exhibit hall. The retired physician and surgeon who came from Cuba in the 1950s and who still speaks Ladino, the language of the Sephardic Jews of the Mediterranean, was lending a hand in the main exhibit hall.
A spry and still physically active Dan Maslia at 91 was overseeing the cashier’s table for the food line. Occasionally, he would sprint to the lobby to check on the sale of raffle tickets for the large selection of wines and liquors and the lavish gift baskets that were available. And, 89-year-old Grace Benator, who with her late husband, Asher, headed the committee that raised the money for the present synagogue over 45 years ago was working one of the raffle tables.
Coincidentally, her name and her husband’s name were prominently inscribed on the wall facing her, in tribute to their leadership of a fundraising campaign from years past to endow a new Torah scroll. She still drives the 10 miles or so each way from her home each week to fold and stuff the burekas that the Sisterhood creates for the annual event, rain or shine. The noted food writer, Joan Nathan, had written about her and the other “bureka ladies” of the synagogue for a lengthy story in the New York Times a few years back.
Benator didn’t think there was anything unusual, at her age, to be spending a Sunday afternoon helping to raise money for the synagogue one more time. It was, she noted, a place after a lifetime of joyful participation that felt just like home.
There were also plenty of younger faces at the bazaar. Two-year-old Lila Sella was getting her face painted in the children’s area off the main social hall, while a lengthy line of small youngsters waited patiently for their turn to be made up. Not far away, another young face was dressed as Hanukkah Veronica, the Mitzvah Fairy. She was helping sell rag dolls modeled after the main character in the book written by Julie Anne Cooper and Wendy Brant, that was also being sold as a Chanukah gift in the main hall.
For adults, there were plenty of handmade craft and jewelry items and more than a few Chanukah menorahs for sale. The executive director of the Sephardic Jewish Brotherhood of America had a table as well. He represented the umbrella organization that’s based in Forest Hill, N.Y., of the several dozen Sephardic synagogues that still remain active in this country.
And, if you were interested in a prepaid burial plan, Eddie Dressler of Dressler’s Jewish Funeral Care was there to help. If you needed a free, fully annotated Jewish calendar, a reminder, perhaps, of the limited time we all have, he could provide one of those as well.
Roni Robbins was autographing copies of her prize-winning novel based on her grandfather’s life, just next to a large display of Judaica from the synagogue’s gift shop. The wall behind the same one was covered with posters of the 240 hostages that had been taken by Hamas terrorists when they invaded Southern Israel on Oct. 7. It was a reminder, if one was needed, that this year’s Chanukah which, for all its gaiety, had a darker side, too.