The New York Jewish Week’s 10 most-read stories of 2023


(New York Jewish Week) — We’ve made it to the last week of 2023, and before we start the new year, we’re looking back on all the stories that you engaged with most over the past 12 months. 

This year, Jewish New Yorkers showed us what meant the most to them — from getting excited about best bites around the city to standing up in solidarity with Israel and against antisemitism to celebrating nearly lost pockets of New York Jewish history. 

As the New York Jewish Week continues to grow as part of the 70 Faces Media family, we want to thank you for joining us throughout 2023. Here are the 10 stories you engaged with most this year.

1. Sammy’s Roumanian, iconic Lower East Side Jewish restaurant, mounts a comeback by Lisa Keys (April 27)

Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse owners David, left, and Stan Zimmerman, outside their restaurant at 157 Chrystie St. in 2005. (Julian Voloj)

You read that right: The iconic Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse — the Lower East Side eatery famous for chopped liver prepared table-side, carafes of schmaltz on the tables and its shticky, in-house entertainer, Dani Luv — is mounting a comeback.  The Ashkenazi-influenced restaurant — which shuttered in January 2021 during the pandemic  — has a lease “in the works” at 191 Orchard St., between Houston and Stanton streets. 

2. This Bronx bakery and its Holocaust survivor founder have been making cheesecake the same way for 63 years by Julia Gergely (May 22)

Fred Schuster, left, smiles next to his son-in-law Yair Ben-Zaken. The two of them run S&S Cheesecake, a bakery in the Kingsbridge neighborhood of the Bronx. (Julia Gergely, Design by Mollie Suss)

Near the northern terminus of the 1 train, just south of Van Cortlandt Park, S&S Cheesecake has been producing thousands of dense, delectable cheesecakes each day for more than 60 years, distributing to steakhouses all across the country. The proprietors are 98-year-old Holocaust survivor Fred Schuster and his daughter and son-in-law Brenda and Yair Ben Zaken. 

3. 18-year-old pianist opens Carnegie Hall performance with Israeli national anthem by Luke Tress (Oct. 22)

Kevin Chen performing at Carnegie Hall on Oct. 19, 2023. (Screenshot)

Kevin Chen performing at Carnegie Hall on Oct. 19, 2023. (Screenshot)

After the Hamas attacks in Israel on Oct. 7, Kevin Chen, an 18-year-old rising star in the world of piano, used his platform to show his support. He opened his performance at New York City’s Carnegie Hall with a rendition of “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem and Hebrew for “the hope.” While he played the melody on piano, members of the audience sang along.

4. The first-ever Borscht Belt Festival celebrates a bygone Jewish era by Leah Breakstone (July 3)

The Nevele Country Club Stardust Room in Ellenville, New York in its heyday. (Catskills Borscht Belt Museum)

The Catskills Borscht Belt museum launched “Borscht Belt Fest,”a one-day festival to honor the history and culture of the “Jewish Alps” this summer in Ellenville, New York. The festival, which included comedy shows, workshops, lectures, exhibits, film screenings, lots of food and a street fair, paid tribute to the legacy of the Borscht Belt — the colloquial name for the once-ubiquitous resorts and bungalow colonies in parts of Sullivan, Ulster and Orange counties that catered to Jewish families — and its influence on modern American culture. 

5. Yeshiva University is left in mourning after a beloved gay alum dies by suicide by Jacob Henry (May 5)

Herschel Siegel

Herschel Siegel, who was a beloved member of the Jewish communities at Yeshiva University and in his hometown Atlanta, died by suicide April 28. (Courtesy)

Herschel Siegel said he had struggled to reconcile his Jewish and queer identities, particularly as a student and 2021 graduate of Yeshiva University. Siegel died by suicide April 28 in Atlanta, where he grew up and had been living. He was remembered by countless friends and allies who felt connected with his struggle for acceptance in the Modern Orthodox world. 

6. This Orthodox Jewish model made history at New York Fashion Week by Julia Gergely (Feb. 14)

Lily Brasch, who has muscular dystrophy, walked the runway at New York Fashion Week for the South Asian brand Randhawa. (Hilary Phelps)

Disability activist Lily Brasch didn’t know if she would be able to walk the runway as a model for New York Fashion Week — not because she has a rare form of muscular dystrophy, which weakens muscles and limits her ability to walk, but rather because the show was set for Friday evening, when the weekly Jewish holiday of Shabbat begins. But Brasch, who is Orthodox and goes by the stage name Lily B., quickly devised a workaround: She took her turn on the catwalk in Midtown at 5 p.m. and, instead of schlepping back uptown to her Morningside Heights apartment, quickly headed to a nearby hotel to welcome Shabbat with her sisters.

7. Falafel Tanami had its regulars. Then the New York Times declared it the best falafel in NYC. by Julia Gergely (June 14)

Galit Tanami, the owner of Falafel Tanami, is shown in her restaurant, which in April was named one of the 100 best restaurants in the city by The New York Times. (Julia Gergely, design by Mollie Suss)

Falafel Tanami is a tiny hole-in-the-wall kosher Israeli restaurant. Beloved by Midwood locals, it’s stardom was put on the map in April when the New York Times named it one of the best restaurants in New York City. Hundreds of people show up every day, creating lines that occasionally snake out the door. News stations from across the globe ask for interviews, catering requests come in from all over the city and, of course, the falafel often sells out before closing time. “It has been crazy, baruch Hashem,” Galit Tanami, who owns the store with her husband, Ronen, told the New York Jewish Week. “Everybody is so excited for us.” 

8. A ‘not f-ing Jewish’ NYer is going viral for confronting a man who ripped down Israeli hostage posters by Ben Sales (Oct. 27)

A man confronts another man who was filmed removing Israeli hostage posters on a street corner in Queens, according to video shared by the watchdog group StopAntisemitism. (X)

As Israel began its retaliation against Hamas in order to eradicate the terrorist group and get back the 250 hostages who were kidnapped, New Yorkers began to spread awareness by putting up posters of the hostages across the city. While many videos of people ripping down the posters went viral, one in particular stood out. Like the others, this video featured someone tearing down the fliers. But unlike the rest, the man confronting the poster-ripper did not just urge the person to stop. Instead, he said the f-word. A lot. Another difference: The man confronting the person taking down the posters was, by his own admission, “not f—ing Jewish.” “You don’t have a f—ing right to touch that s—,” the man sporting a brown plaid shirt yelled in a thick New York City accent about halfway through the 43-second clip.

9. At a live event with Netflix’s ‘Jewish Matchmaking,’ fans of the show find their people by Julia Gergely (May 19)

The cast of Netflix’s “Jewish Matchmaking” met for a live event in New York, May 17, 2023. (Julia Gergely)

Aleeza Ben Shalom, star of the Netflix hit “Jewish Matchmaking,” visited New York earlier this year to dole out dating advice and promote her show. She stood in the middle of a tight circle of fans, both men and women, young and old, maintaining the same warmth she displays on her TV show and speaking to as many people as she could. More than a few single women were sent to the event at the behest of their worried Jewish parents. “I’m young, I’m 24, I have a lot of great things going on in my life,” said Yael Chanukov, a Manhattan-based actress. “But my parents are so concerned about me finding someone. They bought me the ticket, sent me the email confirmation and said I had to ask Aleeza for advice.” 

10. The quest to replace Park East Synagogue’s 92-year-old rabbi is not going smoothly by Jacob Henry (Feb. 8)

Park East

The Star of David stands atop the Park East Synagogue, March 3, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

More than a year after it attracted attention for the abrupt termination of a popular assistant rabbi, Manhattan’s Park East Synagogue hadn’t hired a replacement for its longtime senior rabbi, Arthur Schneier. In February, one candidate, Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, came close, but after a heated squabble about his past outspoken opposition to same-sex relationships, Schochet withdrew his candidacy.

Bonus: NY Jewish Week’s 36 to Watch 2023 

36 to Watch Header

This year, our 36 to Watch was a dynamic group of Jewish New Yorkers, from bakers to business owners, athletes to artists, Broadway stars and TikTok stars, pulpit Rabbis and a prison chaplain. As we begin our search for 2024’s batch, take a look back on the New Yorkers we’ve recommended you keep an eye out for as they make their mark on the city.