The borek came next — flaky, puffed or filled pastries in so many shapes and sizes. Among them were Flory Jagoda’s spinach and cheese burek, as she’s used to spelling it in her native Bosnia. Matilda Revah, considered to be one of the best cooks among the group, contributed bulemas ispanakli, phyllo-dough borek filled with spinach that are rolled into a spiral.
At that point, the Segals had to direct dishes to a second table. Turkish lentil patties, cauliflower in bechamel, hearts of palm pie. Desserts included a holiday preview: two versions of tezpisti, the simple honey-and-walnut cake that is a Rosh Hashanah specialty, plus ring-shaped sweet cookies called biscochos and a sweet squash borek.
For the past 11 years, these three dozen Judeo-Spanish speakers from the Washington area, most of them in their 60s and 70s, have met on Sundays 12 times a year to keep the ancient Jewish culture alive via conversation, as well as in songs of faith and longing. They use the old language, a Castilian dialect of Spanish originating among the Jews in 15th-century Spain, that included Hebrew and Aramaic words. After the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, Jewish exiles settled all over the Ottoman Empire, and Ladino became influenced by local languages such as Arabic and Turkish, leading to more dialects.
With such an abundance of Sephardi dishes on hand, a curious visitor was inspired to ask what people planned to cook for the Jewish New Year, which begins Sunday at sundown.
“I’m married to an Ashkenazi,” said Levy of Rockville, referring to Jews of Eastern European descent. His own roots are from the Mediterranean island of Rhodes; he was almost apologetic. Then he admitted: “We’re serving brisket.”
“My wife is Ashkenazi, too,” said Rockville resident Taranto, whose family came from Rhodes as well. “It’s usually brisket for us.”
The cheerful, beautiful Fortuna Scheige, who grew up in Cuba, albeit with deep Turkish roots, said she’ll be serving her children’s favorite for Rosh Hashanah: ropa vieja, a beef stew that she cooks for about four hours in tomatoes and spices until it is soft and moist.
So it’s basically a brisket. She confirmed as much.
Eighty-nine-year-old Jagoda of Alexandria is the lively spirit and founder of the group. She came up with its name, Vijitas de Alhad, which translates as “Sunday visits.” Such visits were customary among Jewish friends and relatives in Sarajevo, where she grew up, she remembers.