(New York Jewish Week via JTA) — New York had quite a year in 2021. Amid COVID-19 variants and vaccinations, we sang along to “In the Heights” and “West Side Story,” marked the 20th anniversary of 9/11, elected a new mayor and welcomed a new governor.
This was a big year for us, too. The Jewish Week kicked off the year by joining the 70 Faces Media family in January. We welcomed many new members to our staff, and we continue our ongoing process of revitalizing our storytelling for the digital age through our shared newsroom with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Stay tuned for more changes in 2022.
As this unique year draws to a close, we wanted to look back at the headlines and moments that defined 2021. Here are our 10 most-read stories of the year.
10. Watch this ‘70s ad for Bernstein on Essex to feel nostalgic for a lost New York by Julia Gergely (Dec. 9)
Is anything more New York than an old-timey kosher Chinese restaurant?
Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, Bernstein on Essex — also known as Schmulka Bernstein’s — was one of the few places an adventurous kosher diner could go for something besides Old World favorites. It was the kind of establishment where Jewish patrons lined up for dinners on Christmas Eve and snacks after a late night of dancing.
Though the restaurant closed in the ‘90s, an ad from the ‘70s has resurfaced periodically in recent years, including early this month when filmmaker Bex Schwartz shared the footage on Twitter.
9. Padma Lakshmi heads to the Lower East Side for a Hanukkah edition of Hulu’s ‘Taste the Nation’ by Julia Gergely (Nov. 5)
Did someone mention food? In November, Padma Lakshmi’s Hulu docuseries “Taste the Nation” highlighted traditional holiday foods from around the United States.
Lakshmi visits Los Angeles to celebrate the Korean New Year, Miami to learn about Cuban Christmas and Cape Cod to learn about food traditions of the Wampanoag Nation, and to deconstruct the holiday narrative of Thanksgiving.
To learn about Hanukkah? Lakshmi only needed to travel around the corner from her East Village apartment. The episode, titled “Happy Challah Days,” is a New York Jewish food lover’s dream.
8. Lin-Manuel Miranda and my German-Jewish grandma both made ‘the Heights’ what it is by Steve North (June 7)
Back in June, six months before “West Side Story” arrived, New Yorkers were flocking to theaters for “In the Heights,” a film version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning Broadway musical.
Set in Washington Heights, the musical is a celebration of the Manhattan neighborhood’s Latino community. But the Heights also has a rich Jewish history: tens of thousands of German-Jewish immigrants settled there after escaping war-torn Europe, including the author’s indomitable Oma.
7. COVID has turned South Florida into a promised land for Orthodox New Yorkers by Shira Hanau (Sept. 17)
South Florida is no longer just a haven for retirees and Jewish grandparents. Thanks in part to COVID, Hollywood, Florida has become one of the fastest growing Orthodox Jewish communities in the country.
New and longtime residents of the area say the newfound flexibility of remote work, combined with frustration over COVID restrictions elsewhere, have driven people toward the more freewheeling Florida. That migration is changing Florida’s demographics from a retirement hub for aging Jews to an attractive place to live for young religious families.
6. HBO spotlights Amar’e Stoudemire’s journey from the NBA to Orthodox Judaism by Shira Hanau (Nov. 24)
Amar’e Stoudemire wears many hats. The former New York Knick is a part-time owner of Israeli hoops team Hapoel Jerusalem and an assistant coach for the Brooklyn Nets, and he’s also a kosher winemaker and most recently, an organic farmer.
But in these parts, he is perhaps best known for his embrace of Orthodox Judaism. The big man converted to Judaism in 2020 and has Israeli citizenship. On a recent episode of HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” Stoudemire discussed the transformation he underwent from NBA star to Israeli citizen to Orthodox Jew.
5. Nissim Black and Kosha Dillz, Jewish hip-hop royalty, remix Adam Sandler’s ‘Chanukah Song’ on the streets of New York by Philissa Cramer (Nov. 29)
Almost three decades after Adam Sandler released his breakout hit “The Chanukah Song,” two leading Jewish hip-hop artists adapted it for the present moment.
Nissim Black and Kosha Dillz dropped the video for “The Hanukkah Song 2.0” just before the holiday began. It features the musicians gallivanting around New York City, riding the subway and hobnobbing with sidewalk vendors in Times Square.
The pair borrows Sandler’s earworm Hanukkah melody and knack for inventive rhymes. “Aw man, yes, Hanukkah,” they sing in the chorus. “The flow is so iconikah.”
4. 36 Under 36 by Ben Harris (July 12)
Each year The Jewish Week celebrates 36 noteworthy New Yorkers, all 36 years old or younger, who make New York — and its many Jewish communities — better. The honorees are nominated by their peers and colleagues, and they represent many vectors of life, from religion and philanthropy to the arts, campus life and more.
The annual project is a joint effort among many members of the New York Jewish Week and Jewish Telegraphic Agency teams.
3. Park East Synagogue pushes out assistant rabbi, sparking protest by Ben Sales (Oct. 20)
One of the biggest stories in Jewish New York this year was the succession crisis at Park East Synagogue, a Modern Orthodox congregation on the Upper East Side.
The synagogue abruptly fired Rabbi Benjamin Goldschmidt, the assistant rabbi who had been at the synagogue for a decade. Goldschmidt would go on to hold rival services near Park East, and later pushed back on accusations that he planned a coup against longtime Senior Rabbi Arthur Schneier.
2. A chat with the son who wrote the viral obituary for his ‘plus-sized Jewish lady redneck’ mother by Julia Gergely (Dec. 16)
When Andy Corren’s mother died, he did what many bereaved children with a creative bent would do: He wrote an obituary.
Except it wasn’t an ordinary obituary. And it quickly went viral.
He honored his “plus-sized Jewish lady redneck” mother by writing: “Hers was an itinerant, much-lived life, a Yankee Florida liberal Jewish Tough Gal who bowled ’em in Japan, rolled ’em in North Carolina and was a singularly unique parent.”
We spoke to Corren about the piece, his mother, and why his writing resonated with so many.
1. This catchy ‘West Side Story’ Hanukkah parody was filmed on location in New York by Lisa Keys (Nov. 23)
The highly anticipated release of Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake was one of the biggest stories of the year. But even before the film hit theaters, New Yorkers were treated with another adaptation of sorts.
New York-based Jewish a cappella group Six13 took inspiration from the iconic musical for their annual Hanukkah music video, titled “West Side Chanukah Story.”
The video is a voices-only compilation of and riff off some of the greatest hits from Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s beloved Broadway musical, including “Maria” (reimagined here as “Menorah”) and “Tonight” (which becomes “Eight Nights”).
From all of us at The New York Jewish Week, thank you for reading, and we wish you a Happy New Year! 2021 has been an important year of growth for us, and we look forward to covering the next chapter of the unfolding New York Jewish story in 2022. As always, feel free to reach out with tips, questions, or feedback, and if you’re so inclined, support our journalism.