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More than just a Cookbook

Straus News

New issue is full of ethnic history, creativity, and favorites from Sussex community

Sparta – “Creative Kosher Cooking” is not just another Kosher cookbook. Into its pages and recipes are woven the fabric, makeup and story of its contributors. The history and legends of the foods reflect the story of the Jewish community of Sussex County.

Shmuel Lewis, the rabbi of the Chabad Synagogue of Sussex County, often relates that every time he meets a Jew living in the metropolitan area of New York and tells them that he is a Rabbi in Sussex County, they are always shocked: “You mean there is a Jewish community nestled in the woods and farms of the northwestern tip of New Jersey?” Actually he receives the same surprised response from the Jewish people in the area: “We never knew there were so many Jews living in the area!”

“I came here with my wife and children four years ago to assist the local Jewish community in experiencing and learning more about their Jewish heritage,” says Rabbi Lewis, a native of London, England. Not growing up in this rural enclave, he knows only a limited amount of the Jewish history in the county. But according to Lewis, recently there has been a much larger influx of Jewish people into the area. “They have come from all over, including Brooklyn, the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and Paterson, areas that were well known Jewish communities of the last century”.

The same holds true for many of the recipes in this book. Although one of the criteria for the recipes to be included in this cookbook is that they are a favorite of the contributor, and some may have been recently created, many of them have a long history and have been passed down from generation to generation and carefully carried along from country to country as the immigrants moved from place to place. Some of them are exactly as they were 100 years ago and some of them have changed reflecting the style, preference, and taste of the new generation.

A great example would be some of the recipes submitted by Phyllis Polio. The original knaidlach (matzoh ball) recipe was used by her grandmother. Esther Gittel Horowitz, in a small town near Minsk, Russia called Smolovitz, or the cheese blintzes recipe that was used by her mother-in-law in Hungary. Phyllis who now lives in Sussex County, still uses both these recipes but has amended. Her knaidlach now have a little fresh ground pepper instead of salt, the entire egg instead of just the yolks, and seltzer instead of water.

Sheila Kane has a story to tell about her honey cake recipe. “This recipe, from my aunt Alice, my mother’s older sister, invokes family memories that began in Bialystok, Russia. After a pogrom in 1905, my grandparents left Russia with their three children to sail to the United States. They settled in Manhattan’s East Side but then my Aunt Alice and her husband pioneered and moved out to Vineland, an unheard of destination. I have childhood memories of this never ending trip to get to Vineland. Somehow the car would always break down at the side of a farm with a huge frightening bull.” She also tells of her memories of her Aunt Rose’s zucchini cake. Aunt Rose was an excellent hostess and cook. “Many of my favorite recipes come from Aunt Rose, whom I believe was the Martha Stewart of her time. She married my mother’s younger brother who was a cantor in a synagogue. I still remember him chanting the Yom Kippur prayer of Hineni. He would cry as his beautiful voice begged G-d to deem him worthy of praying on behalf of the congregation.”

Some of the contributor’s memories and recipes go back to when they were new immigrant to the country. Sandy Cohen’s grandmother’s brownies were something her brother, sister and she eagerly awaited. According to Sandy, “We lived in the same brownstone as my grandmother and aunt, so we would always go up to grandma’s apartment when she was baking brownies. Of course she always let us know when it was “brownie making day” so that we could be there to lick the leftover batter. They have been a great favorite of our family throughout the generations.”

“The cookbook was the result of the inspiration of many women in our community” says Toby Lewis. Toby, the wife of the Rabbi, is herself a cook par excellence. Her Challah recipe, one of the recipes that she has contributed to the book, gets raving reviews from all who taste it. Most of the time she receives compliments like “It is the best challah I have ever tasted” or “Your challah tastes just like cake.” One congregant told the Rabbi: “Tell your wife that her Challah is outrageous!”

The cookbook was put together by a group of people who now live in Sussex County but come from diverse backgrounds, who have shared of their own favorite recipes, many of which have a long history, that are saturated with memories of the past, and are mixed with creativity for the future.

The cookbook which will be a great edition to your kitchen and make a wonderful gift can be ordered online at, or by phone at (973) 726-3333.

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  • 2. Dave wrote:


    Nice article….. Now, who could one call/write/email in order to get a copy of this cookbook?


  • 3. CR wrote:

    HEY. NIIIICEEEEEEE!!! very nice! actually used the book 2nite!soup woz gr8!hope 2 b using it more often now2!! well done toby!! (&shmuli!) c u SOON! CR

  • 4. ERT wrote:

    Kol hakovad to the cookbook commitee!!
    Well done, hope you are bringing me a copy when you come in to CH

  • 5. The REAL Sussex County wrote:

    An eloquent report and fascinating historical presentation in this intriguing article. Just a shame that I couldn’t read it on Shabbos afternoon just before the Shloff!
    Or is it just that I’m not hungry?
    Hatzlocho in the Shlichus…


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