(New York Jewish Week) — Near the northern terminus of the 1 train, just south of Van Cortlandt Park, an unassuming Bronx storefront has been producing thousands of dense, delectable cheesecakes each day for more than 60 years.
Adorned with a simple red-and-blue sign and occupying the same storefront throughout its history, S&S Cheesecake has become the stuff of legend: Though other spots — say, Junior’s — may have better name recognition, many in-the-know New Yorkers consider S&S’s cheesecakes to be the best in the city. What’s more, its cheesecake recipe hasn’t changed one bit since Holocaust survivor Fred Schuster, 98, first opened the kosher bakery in 1960.
Though Schuster remains a regular presence at the bakery, these days S&S Cheesecake is operated by one of his daughters, Brenda Ben-Zaken, and her husband Yair. But other than a few nods to modernity — an espresso machine and a small cafe for dine-in enjoyment; upgradedg equipment to increase output to 2,000 cheesecakes a day — little has changed in the past six decades.
“The secret is to bake with love and serve with pride and passion,” Yair Ben-Zaken told the New York Jewish Week of the shop’s success. Since its founding, S&S has supplied cheesecakes to countless restaurants and shops, from as far away as Alaska to as close as the iconic Upper West Side grocery Zabar’s. Their products are available for nationwide shipping via their web site or Goldbelly as well.
Ben-Zaken and Schuster spoke to the New York Jewish Week on a sunny, temperate morning just a few days ahead of Shavuot — a holiday, which this year begins the evening of Thursday, May 25, when Jews traditionally eat cheesecake and other dairy food. Ben-Zaken was busy packing up hundreds of cheesecakes that he is shipping around the country, as well as several that S&S donates to the Riverdale Jewish Center, the Orthodox synagogue where he and Schuster are members.
“It gets busy with Shavuot, [but] there is a lot to celebrate with summer and graduations this time of year as well,” Ben-Zaken said. “We are feeling [the busy season] now, but it’s not the same as Christmas and Thanksgiving — those are the real cheesecake holidays for us.”
Before he established his modest cheesecake empire, Fred Schuster was born in Germany in 1925 — only eight years before Hitler came to power. “That was the end of my childhood,” Schuster told the New York Jewish Week.
In an effort to keep him safe, Schuster’s parents first sent him to a Jewish boarding school near Frankfurt and, when it was forced to close down, he moved in with his grandparents. In 1938, when they became too old to take care of him, Schuster said goodbye to his family — with a commitment to see each other again — and went to live in an orphanage in Frankfurt.
Just before his 14th birthday, Schuster and other children at his orphanage were sent to Switzerland via the Kindertransport. On the train, he met a girl named Karola (middle name Ruth), who went on to become the famous sex therapist and talk show host Dr. Ruth Westheimer.
“I always say, of the group there, Dr. Ruth went into the sex business and did very well. And I went into the cheesecake business and didn’t do too badly myself,” Schuster joked.
In Switzerland, Schuster “developed a passion for baking and worked in kitchens and bakeries there,” he said. He arrived in New York in 1941, where he reunited with his parents and sister. (His father had arrived in the United States via England around 1939, and his mother and sister via France, Spain and Portugal in 1940.)
“Thank God, my parents and everybody made it here,” he said. “We are very happy here. The United States was very good to us.”
And yet, even though many of his family members survived — and Schuster is blessed with four grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren — Schuster still thinks about what the Holocaust took from him, especially his own grandparents. “I’ll never forget it,” he said. “I am very proud of what I have built in spite of that.”
In the 1940s and 50s, Schuster lived in Washington Heights — home to a sizable German Jewish community, including Dr. Ruth, who is still a fixture in the neighborhood at 94 — and worked as a general baker at various restaurants, where he learned to make all types of pastries. However, “cheesecake was always on my mind,” he said. “I said to myself, ‘There isn’t a good cheesecake here. Let me see what I can do.”
The recipe he landed on — a combination of eggs, vanilla, sugar, butter and heavy cream — is something Schuster calls “absolutely perfect.”
Though cheesecake may be an ancient food, Jews took to cheesecake the way a fish might take to water, according to The Nosher. Though its varieties are numerous — from light and fluffy to dense and sweet — it was Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants who came to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who originated the ultra-rich dessert that’s known as New York-style (or Jewish-style) cheesecake.
That’s Schuster’s specialty, though when Schuster and his wife Sidi opened S&S Cheesecake, he baked all kinds of pastries and cakes. Quickly, however, he narrowed down the menu to only cheesecakes, the bestsellers. These days, S&S sells a chocolate mousse cheesecake, as well as strawberry-, pineapple- and cherry-topped versions of the classic original, which is flavored with vanilla. The OG — which retails in-store for $40 for an 11-inch cake and $20 for a 7-inch one — is his favorite, Schuster said, adding that he always keeps a cheesecake in his fridge for snacking on.
As for Ben-Zaken, after serving in the Israeli Defense Forces as a combat soldier, then working at various food labs in Israel, he began working at the bakery in 1986. Has he dared to change the recipe? “God forbid,” said Ben-Zaken. “Once you know it’s done right, that’s it.”
Schuster, whose wife died in 2017, moved into the Ben-Zakens’ Riverdale home around eight years ago. These days, the two men spend the majority of their time together, baking and talking. “We’ve worked together for many, many years shoulder to shoulder,” said Ben- Zaken, who affectionately calls Schuster “Opa,” which is German for grandfather. “But he is still in charge, I still learn from him.”
During the course of the New York Jewish Week’s visit to the bakery, a handful of customers came in to pick up the cheesecakes for Shavuot. “It’s always worth a trip,” said a man, who was picking up half a dozen cheesecakes for his synagogue in Pelham Parkway, who declined to provide his name. “It’d be worth the trip even if I lived in Atlantic City.”
For Ben-Zaken, his favorite part of the job is working alongside Schuster. Running S&S Cheesecake has been life-changing, he said, particularly following his recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder he suffered as an Israeli soldier. “I think if there’s anybody that I love more than anything in the world, it is this guy. I owe him everything,” Ben-Zaken said. “But I don’t just owe him, I also just enjoy being with him all the time. He’s still young. In spirit, he’s younger than all of us.”
Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.