Famed anthropologist Ruth Behar stopped by Congregation Or VeShalom, the Sephardic synagogue on North Druid Hills Road, the day after delivering Emory’s annual Tenenbaum Lecture on Jewish life. The congregation’s gift to her was a modest one: six frozen bureka pastries nestled on a white foam plastic plate tied with a thin blue ribbon.
The presentation speech by Grace Benator, who was born into the congregation 83 years ago, was short and simple: “Don’t microwave. Just heat in a 400-degree oven. They’ll get nice and crispy.”
For the past several decades, the little pillows of dough filled with savory fillings such as feta cheese and spinach, or eggplant, or cheese and rice, have been a standout at the synagogue’s annual Chanukah bazaar. They are said to have originated as a Sabbath treat in the eastern Mediterranean. Last year, Or VeShalom sold more than 10,000 of the pastries, which helped to raise more than $50,000.
Behar, who was born in Cuba before Castro came to power, and moved to America as a small child, grew up in a half Sephardic family in Queens, New York. After a distinguished career studying the modern Hispanic populations of Mexico and Cuba, she has developed a strong interest in her Sephardic roots.
“I was really interested in the bureka ladies. I am interested in this culture and what remains of it in America and in the world. I am interested in what’s happened to the Sephardim, to Ladino, their ancient language, what is distinct about these people today. It is a more invisible culture than the Ashkenazic majority.”