Nana’s Kitchen & Catering in Narberth, Pa., March 21, 2024. Photo by Carin M. Smilk.
Nana’s Kitchen & Catering in Narberth, Pa., March 21, 2024. Photo by Carin M. Smilk.
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How ‘Free Gaza’ hit home for a vandalized restaurant outside Philadelphia

“Antisemitism is always and forever, but this has been a wake-up call,” says Gladys Fink Senderowitsch, the owner of Nana’s Kitchen & Catering.

In theory, the words “Free Gaza” aren’t chilling. They aren’t a swastika or a caricature of vermin or evil beings with hooked noses meant to vilify Jews. They are words, and they come with a saying that seems as dated now as when it was used on school playgrounds: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

But that’s not true in Jewish tradition. Words are powerful, and they can slice through a person as severely as a sharp object. There is a Hebrew term for it—lashon hara, or “evil speech”—and in the spring of 2024, it’s become far too commonplace.

That’s especially applicable when it hits close to home, as it did mid-month for the Israeli proprietors of the modest-looking Nana’s Kitchen & Catering in the borough of Narberth, Pa., outside of Philadelphia along the tony Main Line. The two words were spray-painted in black on a brick wall by the side alleyway of their business and remained for days until it was brought to the attention of the owner, 60-year-old Gladys Fink Senderowitsch; her daughter Lee Senderowitsch, 32; and her 83-year-old mother, Olga Fink, the company’s namesake.

Their reactions were to be expected: disappointment, sadness, pain, vulnerability.

Gladys said she hadn’t been sleeping well since the terrorist attacks in southern Israel on Oct. 7, and the resulting war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. She has the radio or TV on all the time, listening to the news since it affects her in more ways than one.

Born in Argentina, she left for Israel and made aliyah at the age of 20. She eventually made her home with her husband, Maxi Senderowitsch, in Kibbutz Merom-Golan in the Golan Heights, raising four daughters fluent in Hebrew, Spanish and English (he passed away seven years ago this week). They left 20 years ago for the United States. By then, Gladys’s parents wound up leaving Argentina and settling in Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak, just miles from the border with Gaza.

Nana’s Kitchen & Catering in Narberth, Pa.
A sign given by a community member to Nana’s Kitchen & Catering in Narberth, Pa., March 21, 2024. Photo by Carin M. Smilk.

Nir Yitzhak was one of the Jewish communities infiltrated by Hamas, who killed and kidnapped several of its members.

Two hostages still being held captive by Hamas in Gaza—brothers Yair Horn, 45, of nearby Kibbutz Nir Oz, and Eitan Horn, 37, who was visiting that weekend—are Senderowitsch family members.

Native Argentinian Ophelia Roitman, 77, also of Nir Oz and who was released on Nov. 28 as part of a hostage exchange with Palestinian prisoners, is best friends with Gladys’s mother, Olga. Also released that day were Clara Marman, 62, a close friend of the Senderowitsch family; her sister Gabriela Leimberg, 59; and her niece Mia Leimberg, 17.

More recently, two hostages rescued in February by the Israel Defense Force—brothers-in-law Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Luis Har, 70—were also native Argentinians kidnapped from Nir Yitzhak.

Nana’s Kitchen & Catering in Narberth, Pa.
The side brick wall of an alleyway, now free of the words “Free Gaza,” next to Nana’s Kitchen & Catering in Narberth, Pa., March 21, 2024. Photo by Carin M. Smilk.

And so the incongruity of “Free Gaza” is not lost on them.

“Antisemitism is always and forever, but this has been a wake-up call,” said Gladys.

She pointed out a sign in the back of the restaurant that reads, “Zero tolerance for antisemitism.” It was given to her by rally-goers on March 17, when a few hundred people came out to show their support. That included families from the Main Line Jewish community and local Jewish day schools, where Nana’s provides between 150 and 200 kosher lunches a day as part of her 15-year-old catering business.

‘How to deal with this’

Lee Senderowitsch had only good things to say about the local police who handled the incident and the borough official who quickly covered over the graffiti. As caring as the neighborhood has been—the bell above the front door chimes consistently as customers poke their heads in to check on them—she said it won’t ever take away that initial feeling she had upon seeing those words.

“It hit us in such a profound place—harder than we thought,” said the Jewish early-childhood education cCenter director who left Santa Fe, N.M., after Oct. 7 to be closer to her family in the Philadelphia area. “It gave us shivers down our spine. We were shaking, wondering how we were going to deal with this.”

Nana’s Kitchen & Catering in Narberth, Pa.
Gladys Fink Senderowitsch, 60; her daughter Lee Senderowitsch, 32; and her 83-year-old mother, Olga Fink, the namesake of Nana’s Kitchen & Catering in Narberth, Pa., March 21, 2024. Photo by Carin M. Smilk.

Like any crime victim, “we felt violated and invaded,” continued Lee. “And yet, it’s only a very small portion of how Israelis are feeling; their homes really were invaded.”

The irony, she noted, is that their Israeli friends keep asking about how they are doing and assuring them that they are not alone.

“People feel that they can say these things, attack Jewish businesses for what they think is a good cause,” said Lee. “It’s fashionable, the cool thing to do. But why here? Do they think that something like this will sway how the war is going?”

The end result, she said, is that it only makes them more vigilant, more wary. “It just feels really sad to be targeted. All I know is that we’re hurting.”

Nana’s Kitchen & Catering in Narberth, Pa.
Olga Fink, the nana of Nana’s Kitchen & Catering in Narberth, Pa. Credit: Courtesy.

At least, Lee and Gladys pointed out, Olga was there with them on Oct. 7 and not back at their former kibbutz. Nana—the word means both “grandmother” and “mint,” a popular Middle Eastern spice for both food and drink—had arrived more than 18 months earlier, and now spends hours cooking and baking in the restaurant kitchen that makes dairy, pescatarian and vegetarian items, with vegan and gluten-free options.

Who knows, they said, had she still been in Israel, she could have been hurt or taken that day, too.

Instead, they work together in a multi-ethnic suburb—next to a train stop close to the city center—that still has a movie theater with a marquee, where families watch annual Fourth of July fireworks on blankets and lawn chairs at the local park, and where an all-day children’s scavenger hunt takes place along the main street every Halloween weekend.

While they are part of that larger society, Lee stated that “we identify as Israeli, the nation of Israel” and the Jewish people.

And although they are “still shocked,” attested Gladys, and not feeling particularly safe right now, they noted at the same time that they are more empowered than ever to keep going, work hard and do what needs to be done.

“We will persevere in history as we have for so many years,” she said. “We will stay united, stay strong, stay together and have hope.”

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