Numerically speaking, the nearly 3,200 people who share stories, ideas and memories on a Facebook group dedicated to growing up Jewish in Northeast Philly dwarf the size of most congregations these days.
Numerically speaking, the nearly 3,200 people who share stories, ideas and memories on a Facebook group dedicated to growing up Jewish in Northeast Philadelphia dwarf the size of most synagogue congregations these days.
They don't have a physical place to meet. Some don't even live in Philadelphia anymore. Yet they find each other in this virtual gateway to their old neighborhood.
Harris Bookfor, the self-proclaimed "mayor," started the "Growing up Jewish in Northeast Philly" Facebook group in 2008. He was inspired, he explains, by his mother, Lillian, who passed away in 1999. She was a daily visitor to the Country Club Restaurant on Cottman Avenue and loved socializing.
Though Bookfor now resides in Alexandria, Va., he wanted to stay connected to the community where he once lived and served as an active volunteer for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. Since social media was on the rise, Facebook seemed to be a perfect fit, the 54-year-old said.
Over the five years since the group's inception, the members have evolved into a family, Bookfor says. During Passover, they even exchange stories and recipes in a kind of "virtual seder," Bookfor continues.
Most of them range in age from 40 to 70 years old. The Northeast section of the city was a predominantly Jewish area when most of them lived there. Now, it's much more diverse.
“The group really should be called 'Growing up in Northeast Philly in the ’50s and ’60s,' ” says Cheryl Shatz Petruzelli, 58, a frequent contributor who currently lives in Cherry Hill, N.J. "The Northeast of our youth is gone. The stores are gone, the restaurants are gone, the people are gone.”
Helene Rosenblatt Wein said the neighborhood where she lives now in East Brunswick, N.J., lacks the unity and comfort of community that she finds in the Facebook group. Her favorite part is exchanging traditional recipes that often measure ingredients by a pinch of this and a drop of that.
"As my grandmother would say, ‘You’ll know when it is right,' " the 53-year-old said. "When you see it again and taste it again, it is great because you thought it was lost forever.”
It is not only a nostalgic Internet community; the members have also bonded in person. In 2009, they held a reunion at the Country Club Diner. Some of them have breakfast at Tiffany Diner every third Wednesday of the month, which they call “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” in reference to the 1961 movie starring Audrey Hepburn. There, they rekindle relationships with old friends and meet new ones, says Anita Sherman Hoffman, a 66-year-old resident of Somerton.
The members may not have grown up with iPads or Facebook, but “most people are doing very well,” Hoffman says.
“If you have a question, ask a 10-year-old," she jokes.
She and some of the other members check for updates and new conversation threads multiple times a day.
Clearly one thing is certain regardless of age: Facebook is extremely addictive.
If you have ties to Northeast Philly, click here to join the open Facebook group.