Seattle’s Sephardic synagogues bake very unique Jewish treats –

Posted By on August 4, 2017

Sephardic Bikur Holim congregation members Regina Barkey Amira and Al, holding a tray of pastelles. (Photo by Rachel Belle)

LISTEN: Seattle's Sephardic synagogues bake tens of thousands of traditional pastries for their annual bazaar

In Seattles Seward Park neighborhood there are two Sephardic synagogues. Dont know what Sephardic means? Let me briefly explain.

There are two subgroups of Judiasm. Ashkanazi Jews are of eastern European descent and Sephardic Jews are from Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East. Each have their own dying language, Yiddish and Ladino, respectively, and very distinct cultures.

But there are also cultural differences between Sephardic synagogues. Seattles 101-year-old Ezra Bessaroth Synagogue follows traditions from the Greek Island of Rhodes and just a mile away is Sephardic Bikur Holim, a Turkish congregation. Each hold a bazaar every summer, where they sell thousands of homemade delicacies.

At Sephardic Bikur Holim, volunteers spend three months sitting around long tables, stretching homemade phyllo dough, crimping edges and sprinkling sesame seeds.

We have made approximately 3,500 bulemas, which are a spinach and cheese filled phyllo pastry, said congregation member Terry Azose. We will be making yaprakes, which are grape leaves that are stuffed with rice and onion and parsley and delicious and lots of lemon.

Azose says theyll hand make a total of 20,000 sweet and savory pastries for the bazaar, and every last biscocho (a doughnut shaped, sesame seed topped cookie) will sell out.

Born and raised an Ashkenazi Jew, Azose married a Sephardic man, joined his synagogue and has been baking these traditional foods for 30 years.

I think that its a dying tradition in a lot of ways and it brings community together, Azose said while rolling out dough for pastelles, a little meat pie. I think thats really important to keep the older generation and the younger generation together and the younger learning from the older. I think its also something that a lot of people dont want to put that much effort into making at home anymore. So the opportunity to buy it from the pros makes it very special for our community.

Keeping tradition alive was a sentiment expressed by everyone I spoke to. Ive spent a few mornings baking at the synagogue, and most of the other volunteers have easily been several decades older than me. There are women in their 80s and one smiley man in BluBlocker sunglasses in his 90s. This is partly a result of younger people having day jobs. But Marlene Souriano-Vinikoor says theres more to it.

I think part of it is whats happening nationally; is that young people arent being represented in their synagogue, Souriano-Vinikoor said. So they dont feel a connection to come. Its a big social factor, its not just the religious part of it. If you dont have people your age and your lifestyle, the religion itself isnt going to keep you there.

Souriano-Vinikoor is a member of the Ezra Bessaroth synagogue, a mile down the road, but she does volunteer baking at both. Which brings up something interesting: theres a lot of social crossover between the two synagogues, and both have dwindling memberships and large buildings. But the idea of merging the two synagogues is political and controversial. So much so that two community members declined going on the record with me about it.

Financially, Im sure it would be better for the two synagogues to merge, Souriano-Vinikoor said . I think whats holding the decision back is that were different enough that people want to maintain their individuality. Some of the vocabulary is different, some of the food is different, the tunes are different. If we merged, all of that would become extinct. Theyd have to decide whats most important: the survival of the community or maintaining your individuality. Im not opposed to the merger because Ive straddled both synagogues. Id be happy at either. I could adapt to those differences.

I grew up in an Ashkenazi synagogue, so all of the foods being prepared for the bazaar are brand new to me. Which isnt a surprise to Souriano-Vinikoor. She says the media only features Ashkanazi food.

The Jewish food that theyre showing and describing isnt Jewish per se, its eastern European,Souriano-Vinikoor said. Its corned beef, its matzoh balls, theyll have gefilte fish. Thats what some Jews eat and its not all Jews. It happens to be the food that the majority of Jews know about and eat but its not all what Jewish food is. Its not accurate. That bothers me because its misrepresenting a whole community, which isnt right.

If youd like to taste some homemade Sephardic cuisine, Sephardic Bikur Holims annual bazaar is on August 27, 2017.

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Seattle's Sephardic synagogues bake very unique Jewish treats -

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