Though Ohav Sholom may not be as old as some of the surrounding synagogues that can trace their roots back to the nineteenth century, it has a rich history. German Jews founded the synagogue in 1940, in the very beginning stages of World War II, before the United States entered the fight. The founders of Ohav Sholom had managed to make an early escape, fleeing the Nazi regime and relocating to New York. The congregation grew out of a desire to celebrate the founders' pride in their Jewish identity. I spoke to Rabbi Aaron D. Mehlman, who has been Ohav Sholom's rabbi since 1995. He is a dynamic figure, quick to smile and quicker to crack a joke. He showed me around the synagogue, past the sounds of children playing in the preschool upstairs. The congregation moved to the current location in 1955 and the synagogue was renovated in the early 2000s, replacing fluorescent bulbs with warmer light sources, raising the front area, retiling the floor, and repainting the walls. Rabbi Mehlman informed me that the building used to be a one-family townhouse. He and his family now live in the Rabbi's quarters on the top floor, a space that used to be a children's nursery. He took me outside briefly to show me the windows of his home: they are noticeably smaller than the windows on the other floors, demonstrating an early version of child-proofing. Windows were designed with higher bottom sills so that children could not lift themselves up onto them. Rabbi Mehlman told me that he once had the pleasure of glancing at the original blueprints of the building, which were so old that they were written on velum. Whereas many synagogues are large and cavernous, Ohav Sholom is cozy and gives off a strong feeling of home. There are colorful stained glass windows along one side and a beautiful blue parokhet decorating the ark, behind a sliding panel. When I visited, Rabbi Mehlman was in talks with the board to renovate the screen that divides men from women during the orthodox service. Where there was a wire screen, Rabbi Mehlman was hoping to put a different material, such as an opaque or stained glass. Along with leading Ohav Sholom, Rabbi Mehlman has his own kosher certifying business called "Make it Kosher. " The business began thanks to one of his congregants, who had invested in a Dunkin Donuts and wanted to make sure that each step of the doughnut process was kosher. Rabbi Mehlman visited the Dunkin Donut mix plant in Boston, checked it out, gave out a certificate, and "the rest is history. " Along with many local eateries, Rabbi Mehlman continues his relationship with "tons" of Dunkin Donuts, his very first account. I asked Rabbi Mehlman about his congregation, and he mentioned that though many of the congregants are "very" local, some people come from as far as streets in the 50s and 60s, despite the fact that they walk to the synagogue on Shabbat and other holidays. The rabbi joked, "We try discouraging them, but they keep coming! " He then went on to say that he has a sixty to eighty percent turnover rate - "Every three-to-five years I have a new synagogue. " He explained that young people come to the area for school and then have to leave because of the price of rent. There are, however, members of the congregation who have been attending services for generations – "the original crew, " as the rabbi calls them. For example, the gabbai, who orchestrates the services, has been around for fifty years. There is also a ninety-eight year old Holocaust survivor who still tries to make most of the services, despite his age. Rabbi Mehlman then shared with me that this gentleman especially wanted to attend the upcoming service that was about Amalek, the archenemy of the Jewish people in the Bible. His reasoning for wanting to be there was that he "had seen Amalek, " firsthand, referring to Hitler and the Nazis. The man, currently living on the Upper West Side, survived five different labor and concentration camps. Rabbi Mehlman is extremely proud of his congregation and that there are "no fights here. " He has heard of many synagogues where there are issues with politics, back-stabbing and secessions, but insists that Ohav Sholom has never been plagued with those troubles. "No one's sought to overthrow me, yet, " he joked. Instead, Ohav Sholom is "an oasis of peace in Manhattan. " The rabbi informed me that "Ohav Sholom" means "lover of peace" in Hebrew: "It's like an inside joke. We really get along. "
The inside of Nice Matin is like a bright carnival ground with three central pillars decorated with lights, wide spaces between tables, and colorful art on the walls. Above the doorway, there is an arrangement of baskets and fruit with handwritten signs and prices in euros, emulating European markets. At any hour of the day or evening, the restaurant is filled with people both from the surrounding neighborhood as well as from the Lucerne, the connecting hotel. The chef and owner of Nice Matin is Andy D'Amico, who has since gone on to develop other restaurants around the city, including 5 Napkin Burger. After attending the Culinary Institute of America, Andy worked at Parker House in Boston and at the Sign of the Dove on the Upper East Side, where he was promoted to head chef. In 2003, he partnered with Simon Oren to open Nice Matin, a venture that earned him the title of "Best Chef 2003" from New York Magazine. I met with Danny, the General Manager, who shared their elaborate cocktail list that had classics with a twist. He brought out a San Tropez, Nice Matin's take on the mojito. It had summery passion fruit foam that complemented the mint and dark rum. The restaurant has seasonal cocktails, such as hot toddies in the winter and Campari cocktails in the spring. My favorite time to dine at Nice Matin, however, is on a warm weekend morning when their elaborate brunch menu is offered, and I can sit outside.
Sojourn calls itself the Upper East Side’s “sexiest restaurant, ” and it is hard to argue: the color scheme, in coppers browns and reds, gives the restaurant a warm, intimate feeling. The name, which means “a temporary stay, ” hints at the fact that visitors can expect a full dining experience. Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, was excited to return to Sojourn. She and her family had discovered the restaurant, tucked behind a residential-looking doorway, right before Thanksgiving and had visited two more times by the New Year. Along with the friendly staff, warm ambience, and delectable, seasonal food, what makes Sojourn stand out is its approach to courses: all menu items can be ordered as sharable tapas, with just the right number for the table. For example, when Olivia went with a group of seven family members and ordered the chorizo croquettes, the waiter said he would bring out two orders at three to a plate... plus one extra. Using this innovative way of ordering, each party can essentially create their own tasting menu. As for beverages, the cocktail menu is sophisticated and diverse. The restaurant not only has a large selection of wine, but also keeps some of their grapes in barrels rather than bottles, a more environmentally friendly method of storing and serving it. Among the many menu items that Olivia’s family tasted were the zesty arugula salad, crispy fish tacos, and Kobe beef sliders. Despite being thoroughly full, they made sure to have enough room for the warm, fluffy churros served with Mexican chocolate dipping sauce. We spoke to Johnny Musovic, who owns Sojourn with his father, Sami. They originally opened a Mexican restaurant called Santa Fe in the same location, but discovered that the neighborhood did not have a strong need for casual Mexican food. Instead, the father and son duo reopened with a higher-end concept which has been wholly embraced. Johnny proudly told me that his father is no newcomer to the restaurant world, having been the Head Maitre D’ at Sparks Steakhouse and Mr. Chow’s. He also has two other restaurants nearby. As for Johnny himself, he told me “In this industry, you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, ” referencing his time spent as everything from dishwasher to delivery boy to co-owner. He is clearly very proud of Sojourn for a variety of reasons, beginning with the food. “Most chefs are into fresh, local ingredients, but these chefs really are. ” He is also happy to have cultivated a chic, relaxing space, which includes live music on Monday and Tuesday evenings. Though he proclaims that the Upper East Side is his favorite part of the city, Johnny’s dream is to open up a Sojourn in Midtown one day. Until then, his goal is to integrate his bar crowd and his dining crowd. One night, he held a two hour open bar as his way of “giving back” to the neighborhood. Along with drinks, he offered his customers a series of hors d’oeuvres. He was surprised by how many of his bar regulars approached him and said, “I didn’t realize you had such great food! ”
Shaaray Tefila has a very special place in my heart. For well over twenty years, beginning in the early 1970's, this was a home away from home for my grandparents. Reaching 79th Street and having the opportunity to write about this synagogue has brought tears to my eyes again and again. Rabbi Tattelbaum played an important role not only in my grandparent's lives, but in mine as well, when I was a young, impressionable teenager. It was Chip Schrager, the Communications Coordinator for the temple in 2015, who kindly guided the Manhattan Sideways team through the space, beginning with the main sanctuary. The room is expansive, seating 400 people downstairs and 200 in the balcony, and Chip was proud to say that it was filled to the rafters during the recent Hanukkah services. Something that I did not know was that the building used to be a movie theater until the temple took over in 1958. The old projector room is now used as an office for the parenting programs. Founded in 1845 as a strict Orthodox temple, Shaaray Tefila has shifted locations throughout the city, becoming Reform along the way. Stepping into the chapel, where smaller services are held, I saw bold stained glass ornaments on one side of the room with the names and symbols of characters from Jewish lore. In the meeting room nearby, well-polished Judaic pieces, along with artifacts dating back to the temple's founding were displayed. In addition, we took note of photographs of the old temple on West 82nd Street, the Seal of the Congregation, and even the trowel that the rabbi used to lay the cornerstone of the Temple. Leaving the room, Chip gestured to photographs of six men who were senior rabbis at Temple Shaaray Tefila. The temple has a strong children's program, including a nursery school, kindergarten, and religious school that extends through high school. We appreciated getting to observe the room used for art class. A giant paint pallet decorated the wall and colorful supplies lined the room. We then ventured up to the roof where the playground is located, surrounded by a fence that still allowed for a beautiful view of the winter sunset. It was here that Chip continued to speak of the various programs offered to every age group, including senior citizens. This is what my grandparents took advantage of so many years ago, and it warmed my heart to know that people are still participating in the various classes that Shaaray Tefila has to offer. As Chip beautifully stated, "Whatever your Jewish journey is, we want to be a part of it. "