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This kosher cafe in Riverdale attracts a diverse clientele from across the Bronx



(New York Jewish Week) — When Emily Weisberg arrived in the Bronx neighborhood of Riverdale in 2014, she was surprised that the coffee options didn’t extend far beyond Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts.

So she set out to create a cafe of her own, one that would not only serve up third-wave coffee but also function as a community hub outside of the relatively insular worlds of her kids’ daycare or her synagogue, the open Orthodox Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. She wanted a place where she could get to know everyone who lived in the neighborhood.

Nearly a decade later, Moss Cafe stands out the northern Bronx neighborhood — both because of its vivid mural of carrots, beets and red onions that pops on its otherwise drab block, and because of its unusual combination of seasonal foods, ethical practices and kosher supervision.

“Our clientele is really diverse, and I think that’s my greatest accomplishment here,” Weisberg told the New York Jewish Week. “We made a restaurant that everyone wants to come to that also happens to be kosher.”

Much of what a visitor to Moss encounters would not be out of place in any hip, upscale cafe. A selection of seasonal pastries, all baked in house, changes throughout the year; flowers in mason jars brighten every table. Moms with yoga mats tucked under their arms grab lattes to go and high schoolers cluster around the window seat with their laptops. The shakshuka is fragrant with garlic and za’atar, and chef Brian Engel’s kale salad, enriched with parmesan and pepitas and studded with roasted beets, is as good as any in the city. The restaurant recently added dinner service, with a menu including a “picky plate” designed to accommodate families.

At the same time, the cafe is strictly kosher — it serves fish and dairy, but not meat, under the supervision of the Vaad of Riverdale — and closes on Shabbat. Its bakery case includes fluffy challahs on Friday mornings, and special catering menus feature traditional foods for Jewish holidays. Customers can often be overheard discussing Jewish texts, the neighborhood’s multiple day schools and upcoming trips to Israel.

On a recent breezy April day — the first spring morning that rhubarb appeared in the cafe’s farm deliveries — Moss was jammed with neighborhood regulars and visitors from all walks of life. Samuel Marder, a nonagenarian violinist and Holocaust survivor — whose wife, the pianist Sonia Vargas, was Riverdale native Regina Spektor’s music teacher — sat at a table adjacent to Sage Vasquez and Diamond Wynn, two culinary professionals from the South Bronx. It was their first visit, but they discovered that a friend worked at Moss and felt at home.

Moss’ pastry counter is always filled with seasonal items. (Ben Resnick)

“I see a lot of people who look like me, and that’s important when I go out to eat,” says Vasquez, a pastry chef. “The neighborhood is like a breath of fresh air from the South Bronx.”

Moss also stands out for its commitment to mutual aid in the borough. Case in point: Few other independent neighborhood coffee shops employ a dedicated director of community outreach. Tess Watts, who has that role at Moss, started at the cafe as a server while she was a student at nearby Manhattan College. Now, she leads Moss’s collaborations with neighborhood nonprofits such as the Riverdale Community House.

Last year, the cafe donated nearly $11,000 of its revenue to local nonprofits and charities, and raised an additional $2,900 for those groups. It also donated more than $7,400 worth of excess food to local community fridges, putting food directly into the hands of those who needed it. Watts says as a community-oriented cafe located in a well-to-do enclave in New York’s poorest borough, Moss has a responsibility to help its neighbors, not just its customers.

“If your mission is to build community around food, you can’t discount the ways that the community is impacted by food,” she said.  “You have to look at food insecurity, you have to look at economic inequality. In order to operate a restaurant and call ourselves ethical, we have to do it.”

Moss Cafe sits on a nondescript block in the commercial heart of Riverdale in New York City. (Ike Allen)

Moss has stuck with that commitment since it opened in 2015. Weisberg, the co-owner and face of the cafe, was raised in the rural Midwest, where she got a job at 16 in a small-town coffee shop. That cafe — Perc Place in Hartford, Wisconsin — gave her a lasting appreciation for the communal spaces that coffee shops can provide. Even in a small heartland town like hers, many of the cafe’s workers were immigrants from Latin America, and people from all walks of life chatted together at the tables over cups brewed from beans grown in the highlands of Guatemala and Colombia.

“Living in a place that was not very diverse, I always longed for that,” Weisberg said. “This was a special way to connect with where I was and also to open up my world, through food and coffee and through my coworkers.”

Weisberg lived for a time in Peru and took classes in Latin American Studies at the University of Wisconsin, intending to eventually practice immigration law. While living in Madison, Wisconsin, she worked at restaurants and frequented the local farmers market where, she said, “local food was a thing before it was on a national scale.”

At the same time, her spiritual interests steered her toward Judaism — she was raised Catholic — and she converted at 21, after studying with a campus Chabad rabbi and rebbetzin. In Madison, she also met Alex Weisberg, who had been raised by a secular Jewish family in New York’s Westchester County but became more interested in religion after a Birthright trip.

The two got married in Jerusalem and lived there for three years, where Weisberg opened a coffee and pastry window from their home, where customers would sit on chairs set up on the cobblestone street.

That was the experience she hoped to recreate in Riverdale after they moved to New York City in 2014 — Weisberg felt she could help her community as a good employer. The ethical mission of Moss, she said, starts with pay and conditions for its own employees.

Snapshots of Moss Cafe’s menu and interior. (Courtesy of Moss Cafe)

“These people are the heart and soul of our neighborhoods,” she said. “It’s true that I opened Moss, but Moss is really the people who are, day in and day out, showing up at 4 in the morning to bake things, or scrubbing tables at 4 p.m. on a Friday.”

But Moss also stays afloat because its entire team is committed to the ethical mission of the cafe, including its close relationships with small New York and Pennsylvania farms — during the early days of the pandemic, Weisberg helped support farms and her own business by selling produce boxes from the cafe — and postpartum meals for new mothers through the Bronx doula groups the Birthing Place and Ashe Birthing Services.

With a large and growing Orthodox community in Riverdale, it was important to Weisberg for Moss Cafe to be strictly kosher. But while the certification allows some diners who wouldn’t otherwise be able to eat there, not all customers come looking for a kosher dining experience.

“I grew up Jewish and all the Passover and kosher food can be very bland,” said Brian Silbert, a former Manhattanite who plans to open an ice cream shop nearby. “This is savory and flavorful without it suffering. Across the board, everything is done right.”

The post This kosher cafe in Riverdale attracts a diverse clientele from across the Bronx appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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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.

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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.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

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.)

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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.

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