One on One with Rochelle Dweck
“What drives me is my community service. My parents taught us by example to do for others – it was in the air that we breathed. They also gave me the gift of siblings.”
Ellen Geller Kamaras
Rochelle Hanon Dweck, daughter of Shifra and Ezra Hanon, grew up in Brooklyn with her nine siblings. She and her (fraternal) twin sister Ami are the third and fourth children in the lineup. Rochelle jokingly shared that she lived on a street that her parents made famous, 901 First Court, off East 9th, between Avenues R and S. Shifra taught English at Yeshiva of Flatbush High School for over 25 years and ten years ago founded its highly acclaimed Pathfinders program. Ezra was a long-time board member at both Yeshiva of Flatbush and Congregation Shaare Zion, and he has been always committed to serving the community. His most recent endeavor is building a shul on Har Gilo for our soldiers.
Rochelle is a proud alumna of Yeshiva of Flatbush, both the elementary and high school. Three of her children have graduated from the high school, and her youngest son is a sophomore. Rochelle is a long-standing key member of the Ladies Auxiliary team and is an active supporter of the Pathfinders program along with her husband Eli, who is on the school’s board. Eli, a real estate developer, worked on the Yeshiva’s expansion project. “Yeshiva of Flatbush did so much for us: this is our way of giving back and staying connected and close to our children,” Eli said.
The Blessings of Family
From the start, I was impressed with Rochelle’s warmth, kindness, humble nature, and sincerity. She describes herself as outgoing and chatty, and she thrives on connecting with others. Family is everything to her. Rochelle could not say enough about the kind of positive role models her parents were and still are, and so are her wonderful in-laws, Florence and Murray Dweck. Rochelle and her nine siblings feel so blessed to have been raised with the values, middot, and examples of kindness to others and of doing as much as you can to help people. “Doing for others was in the air that we breathed.”
Rochelle was a good student and loved everything about Yeshiva of Flatbush. What attracted her the most were the extra-curricular activities, working with friends, and chairing events. She and her twin sister, Ami, were not in the same class and they had different interests and friends. However, Rochelle explained that they were confident and independent and were always secure about being there for each other.
Rochelle’s mom Shifra was the Ladies Auxiliary President at Yeshiva of Flatbush and volunteered at the school throughout Rochelle’s childhood. When her youngest sister, Esther, was born Shifra began to teach at the high school. Rochelle’s daughter Florence was fortunate to be a student of her grandmother’s.
After high school, Rochelle spent her gap year at Machon Gold seminary in Israel, and upon her return she completed her bachelor’s degree and enrolled in a master’s program in Guidance and Counseling.
A Match is Made
A famous Mishnah states that Hashem has been matchmaking since he created the world. One never knows where and when they will meet their soulmate. Rochelle’s match was made when she went to a sebet for her friend who was soon to be married. Her naseeb, Eli Dweck, was a first cousin of the hatan, and Eli and Rochelle started chatting on the porch. After the party, Rochelle’s friend texted her, asking if she would go out with Eli. They had their first date and on their second date they sat together at a wedding. Eli drove Rochelle home and it was then that Rochelle sensed their connection and shared values. They have been married for twenty-six years. They live in Brooklyn, and have four children, Florence, Murray, Ezra, and Joshua Daniel.
Family and Community
When Rochelle married Eli she was thrilled to gain three grandparents, as her own had passed away.
She immediately connected with Esther Dweck, her father-in-law’s mother, who shared her cooking secrets with Rochelle. Every Friday, in Deal, N.J., Rochelle took notes while Grandma Esther demonstrated how to prepare a particular dish. Esther was known for her famous spareribs, empanadas, and Syrian entrees.
“My mother-in-law’s stories of her childhood keep us grounded and appreciative for all that we have. My father-in-law, so similar to my dad, is a soft spoken, positive person with tremendous emunah. He is also a shining example for our children.”
After their children were grown, Rochelle took an online certification course in integrative nutrition and became a health coach, inspired by her best friend Stephanie Sultan, a”h. Rochelle uses her expertise in community projects and in planning and cooking for her family. Rochelle’s goal is “clean” cooking, and she swaps out less healthy ingredients like brown sugar for healthier choices such as agave, and substitutes date syrup for preserves, even in traditional Syrian dishes. She finds great satisfaction in trying out new approaches.
Deeds of Loving Kindness
Let’s get back to Rochelle’s spark, that essence that drives and defines her.
Rochelle’s passion for family and community service are at her core. “I feel most fulfilled when I am doing community work. All ten of us [siblings] are involved. If I worry about filling up a room, I know some family members will come to support me.”
Rochelle has faith that Hashem will continue to bless her with the strength and family support to perform her hesed work.
Rochelle is the ultimate team player. “I don’t do anything alone. People think our community events happen effortlessly. My secrets to success are planning and having a good team to get things done. The best part of community work is the friends you gain along the way.”
The scope of Rochelle’s community work includes Yeshiva of Flatbush, her synagogue, Mikdash Eliyahu (which was founded by her father-in-law and dedicated in his father’s memory), and the Sephardic Community Center. Shifra and Ezra Hanon, and Florence and Murray Dweck were amazing role models for Rochelle and Eli. Rochelle and Eli strive to be positive role models for their children, too. They believe that all blessings come through their charity work and hesed. Their children and all participated in Cooking for a Cause, which was a project of the Pathfinders program.
Rochelle’s culinary passion and love for community and tradition got her thinking about interviewing community grandmothers about their cooking. She found out that Rosie Bawabeh, a young Syrian woman and an accomplished graduate of culinary school, was interviewing grandmothers in the community to preserve Syrian traditions through food. Rochelle, an SCC Board member, partnered with Rosie to launch Simply Traditional, right before the pandemic. Rochelle credits Rosie for bringing this project, “Rosie’s baby,” to the Center.
The Simply Traditional team documents these meaningful legacies. Team members include Rosie, Esther Haber, Kathy Shabot, and Rochelle.
Their mission is to capture recipes and a sense of suffeh of our community’s matriarchs and to bring together generations of families through food.
What is suffeh? Suffeh is portrayed by our grandmothers in many ways: opening your home and welcoming family and friends, doing things with love, sitting around the table, talking, enjoying food, and every aspect of being together.
Here’s how Simply Traditional works. A family member contacts the Center to book a video shoot for their grandmother. Grandma picks a recipe she wants to share and demonstrate either at the SCC kitchen or in her own home. The grandmother and her family are filmed for two hours. Interactive questions are prepared in advance, and grandchildren can ask questions as Grandma cooks the dish. The family receives a lifetime keepsake, and the Center maintains a library of these films for future generations. Families may choose to keep their videos private.
“Family is everything to us and our food is part of what brings families together and keeps them together for generations. When you watch these demonstrations, you feel the love for religion and the gratitude to Hashem,” Rochelle says.
Two interviews were conducted before the Pandemic hit, followed by a long break. Filming resumed in the summer of 2021 and then, to keep our grandmas safe, there was another pause during the Omicron outbreak. Word spread quickly and women called in, booking interviews.
The Center released 40 videos before Purim. Team members attend the filming and provide editing notes for the videographer (the two-hour film is edited down to 25 minutes). Rochelle feels that things have come full circle as Rosie’s sister, Joy, is now Rochelle’s daughter-in-law, married to her son Murray. Rochelle is grateful that her husband and children are always by her side for Simply Traditional and other projects.
Shifra Hanon, a grandmother and great-grandmother, was thrilled to share a recipe and receive a precious keepsake.
Given that Simply Traditional is one of Rochelle’s favorite projects, it’s no surprise that Eli declares that Rochelle’s cooking is her relaxation. Rochelle adores cooking and hosting guests, and she enjoys seeing people enjoying her meals and bonding.
Watch the interview clips on Instagram@simplytraditional, sign up your grandma, and look out for a cookbook!
You can reach Rochelle at Rdweck18@aol.com or message her on Instagram@simplytraditional.
Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach. Her coaching specialties include life, career, and dating coaching. Ellen is active in her community and is currently the Vice-President of Congregation Bnai Avraham in Brooklyn Heights. She can be contacted at email@example.com (www.lifecoachellen.com).