LIMA, Peru (JTA) — The story of Lima’s only Jewish bakery begins on Christmas.
On the eve of the holiday in 2016, Deborah Trapunsky was baking challah for a non-Jewish friend who wanted a unique gift for her boyfriend. Her friends had always loved her challah, and she enjoyed sharing this aspect of her culture with them. But on that night, Trapunsky figured that she would see if anyone else would be interested in some challah to go with their Christmas dinner. So she posted on Facebook.
The response was overwhelming.
Trapunsky ended up receiving nearly 100 orders, and without a professional oven, she barely kept up with the demand. Using her parents’ small kitchen to complete the orders, Trapunsky said that she had to “colonize” her parents’ apartment — using every countertop to knead dough, laying out challahs throughout the rooms to cool down and then packaging them.
As she drove around Lima on Christmas day completing all the deliveries, as the majority of Peruvians were celebrating with their families, Trapunsky hatched a plan to turn the unexpected response into a business.
“I was really surprised when the orders started to grow and grow,” she said. “I had no idea about anything, no idea how much challah I could bake, no idea how to do the packaging…but that’s how it all started.”
She named her creation Oh-jalá — a bit of wordplay, as “ojala” means “I hope” and jalá is the Spanish word for challah, the braided Ashkenazi bread traditionally made on Shabbat and holidays.
Seven years after that Christmas Facebook post, the bakery has moved from a cramped 120-square-foot kitchen to a 1,200-foot brick and mortar space that opened in 2020 in a garage of an old colonial home in the posh neighborhood of San Isidro.
Trapunksy, who is 30, has gone from selling four flavors of challah to 12 — including vegan and nutella varieties — and has expanded from only selling challah to offering coffee, hamantaschen (for Purim), a variety of sweetbreads and even bagels. (She made sure to add the disclaimer that hers are not on par with New York bagels but that they suffice for the traveler in Peru who is craving the Jewish-American staple).
Over the years, Trapunsky’s clientele has also shifted from mostly Jewish customers — who found her after the initial Christmas rush — to mostly non-Jews. She therefore sees Oh-jalá as more than a job: it’s her attempt to combat stereotypes, encourage the integration of Jews into Peruvian society, and perhaps most importantly, it’s her attempt to forge a unique Jewish-Peruvian identity for herself.
“Here in Peru people like ‘different’ [cultures and cuisines], and being Jewish in Peru is very different,” Trapunsky said. “And I really enjoy having a bakery that exists at the intersection between this minority community and the larger Peruvian world.”
Jewish Peruvians make up fewer than .01% of the country’s population of 34 million and are mostly concentrated in the capital Lima. Trapunsky and her family are currently close with other members of the community here, but they didn’t always fit in.
Like many South American Jews, her family mostly descends from Eastern Europe. Before 1998, they lived in Chile, but looking to leave financial struggles behind, the Trapunskys left for Peru. Siblings, parents, cousins, aunts and uncles all lived together in an old house in Lima. Trapunsky recalled these memories fondly, as she was only a child and enjoyed being with her cousins. But she also remembers the tension between her parents and uncles and aunts, as their economic hardships were compounded by feeling like outcasts among Lima’s Jews.
Lima’s Jewish community of around 2,000 is very wealthy, and the Trapunskys came to Peru with almost nothing. Starting from scratch, they had to fight for a place within a community that Deborah describes as “hermetic.” She spent much of her childhood feeling like she didn’t belong in the traditional but not Orthodox community that was supposed to embrace her. It made her bitter.
“The Jewish community here is very closed-minded. When [my family] arrived in Peru, we didn’t have any money…I was young but I remember feeling the struggle of my family trying to exist in an unwelcoming community,” Trapunsky said. “So although I’ve always felt grateful for being Jewish and for the Jewish community here, I also have always felt a little resentment.”
After graduating from Peru’s only Jewish high school, she went to university and immersed herself in the non-Jewish world. She quickly discovered that the majority of Peruvians know very little about Jewish people, and what they do know is often based in stereotypes and anachronisms. She often tried to educate her peers about Jewish holidays, traditions and food, and through that process felt more Jewish than she ever had.
“Sharing my culture with friends helped me discover what made me feel Jewish. When I was only spending time with other Jews, I lost the ability to identify myself by contrasting myself to others,” she said. “But being immersed in Peru’s secular world gave me the opportunity to connect to my Judaism in a very different way.”
She added that she thinks the insularity of Lima’s Jewish community leads non-Jewish Peruvians to view the community with suspicion and reinforces negative stereotypes about Jewish people. With Oh-jalá, Trapunsky is trying to change that — to foster interaction between local Jews and others, and to show Peruvians how Jews enrichen their society.
“Food is a safe and secular space,” she said. “It gives me the opportunity to share cultural information in a non-political manner.”
But Oh-jalá’s physical space is not the only tool that Trapunsky uses in her mission — she also uses the bakery’s Instagram account to educate Peruvians about Judaism. With more than 18,000 followers, she does educational Instagram stories on Sukkot, Pesach, and other Jewish holidays. She even did an Instagram live video on “Judaism 101.” In a series of highlighted stories on her page, she talked about topics ranging from the fasting on Yom Kippur to why Jews don’t celebrate Christmas to, of course, the origins of challah.
As a result, she has received hundreds of positive direct messages from Peruvians eager to learn more about the religion and compare Judaism to their own Catholicism. She said this was her exact goal.
“I want to overturn the hermetic reputation of the Jewish community and turn it into something accessible, open to the public, and even trendy,” she said. “I want everyone in Peru to be able to get to know us… and explore our culture.”
Starting Oh-jalá has also helped her let go of the resentment. She now not only feels more secure in her identity as both Peruvian and Jewish, but also more of a valued member in the Lima Jewish community.
As the financial success continues, Deborah is focused on the future. She wants to franchise her bakery and plans to open another one on the other side of the city.
Ever the entrepreneur, she also made sure to tell the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that she’s looking for investors — and for a Jewish boyfriend.
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.
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