One of my mottos reflects why Jewish mothers keep feeding everyone, why we bring tons of food over for a new baby, a shiva, an illness or any occasion. “Food is Jewish love and the freezer is the heart we keep it in.” Jewish food is not just about sustenance for the body–it feeds the soul and the heart and mind. Our recipes come with stories, our best memories are often of hanging with a Bubbie or a Tante in her warm kitchen, our festivals and occasions are inextricably linked to the foods we eat to celebrate them, and we all love to eat good old heimish food, admit it. But what if you are short on time, or have two left hands in the kitchen, or want to send some Jewish love from 6000 miles away? Call Bonnie.
Born and raised on the Lower East Side of New York City, an only child in a traditional home, Bonnie Holzberg Rosenbaum was doted on by her loving parents and spent hours in the kitchen learning how to cook from her mom, Sylvia. There was no extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, so all the old family stories, traditions and recipes were shared by Sylvia over a mixing bowl in the Holzberg kitchen. A family favorite, Sylvia’s mom’s babka, was a staple in the Holzberg home. Although Bonnie, named after her grandmother, never knew her Bubbie, she certainly knew the rich traditions and the tastes of the older generation that were imparted to her in that kitchen, and she has passed them down to her children, as well. As a newlywed on the Lower East Side, Bonnie was known for her delicious cooking, baking and entertaining, and a spot as a guest at her Shabbos table was a coveted item. Her repertoire grew from babka, chicken and kugel to all kinds of delicacies in the old heimish traditions, as well as new modern twists. Food was a hobby and a way to express her love for her family and friends and to celebrate Shabbos, chagim and life events. By day she worked in healthcare, homecare, social services and various other fields, but on nights and weekends, she loved to cook and bake.
Moving to Monsey when the kids were a bit older and wanting some room to spread out, bringing Bubbie Sylvia along with her, the mother-daughter team cooked up a storm together for family and friends. Many home cooked simchas from bar mitzvahs to sheva brachot for dozens of guests, were enjoyed in their new home with the larger accommodations, and Bonnie’s reputation for yummy food and awesome babka spread. Soon, her coworkers were asking her to cook for them and her evenings and weekends were filling up with fulfilling orders for kugel, latkes, cheesecake, soup and of course, babka. It was still mostly a hobby she enjoyed and she kept her day job, never dreaming of being a chef and baker full time.
When Bubbie Sylvia sadly passed away several years ago, the family traditions, recipes and customs lived on in the legacy she left her daughter and grandchildren. A few years later, Bonnie packed up life in Monsey and made the leap to Eretz Yisrael, making Aliyah three years ago to be closer to her husband’s family. Setting up a new life in Bet Shemesh not long after she herself became a Bubbie, Bonnie worked hard to acclimate her younger children to life in Israel and searched for work. Meanwhile, in her spare time, she taught herself how to cook and bake in Israel: how to navigate with new ingredients, different packaging, the metric system, altitude and a host of other kitchen adjustments one must make when moving across the world.
Bonnie’s Shabbos table once again became a magnet for guests, especially for yeshiva boys from Lev HaTorah, right across the street from her apartment and girls from the Sophia seminary a few blocks away. Once again, Bonnie’s cooking and baking was gaining renown.
Luckily for Bonnie, she was able to secure a good job for the first two years of her Aliyah, but was told last year she would be gradually laid off and should look for other work. Bonnie took it as a sign from Hashem that it was time to take her talent and hobby to the next level and launched Bubbie’s Babkas several months ago, baking babkas and packaging them for sale in retail stores. They were an instant hit, and are sold in various stores around Bet Shemesh. Soon orders started coming in for more than just babka and now Bonnie caters kiddushim and events in her shul and cooks for two of the local yeshivot. Despite no formal training, being a chef and baker is now her full time job as she struggles to make a parnasa in Israel and continue with a successful klita.
Until recently, the babkas were being made in her tiny kitchen, but she has now coordinated access to a commercial kitchen and acquired official kosher supervision/hashgacha. No matter how many orders she has or how busy she gets, she has worked hard to maintain the highest quality and standards so her food still has the small batch, homemade, heimish taste of the Lower East Side, albeit with an Israeli twist here and there. She even makes her own herring!
This past summer, Bonnie was asked by a couple of American parents to send care packages to daughters spending the summer on various programs in Israel and her assorted cake platters and kugels were a huge hit. She realized that students studying in Israel for the year rarely get a taste of good old fashioned home-cooked food so she has now expanded to delivering goodies to students in the yeshivot and seminaries. With so many of us here in the Bergen County community sending our kids to Israel to study, she offers us a great opportunity to send some Jewish love their way. Bonnie urges people to think out of the box when ordering for their kids. “Don’t just think candy and cookie baskets–consider kugels and salads, or chicken soup when they are not feeling well or in the deep of winter–whatever you would make them for comfort food, I can make it and deliver it with a warm greeting from home.”
Visit Bonnie’s website at http://bonnierosenbaum.wix.com/bubbies-babka or call her at 050-257-0035.
By L’via Wiesinger