When Bernice Kuperinsky and her son Warren ran Rumpernook kosher-style restaurant and caterer in Fair Lawn, it was Bernice’s second home, said her daughter-in-law Renee. After the restaurant closed in the mid 1990s, "Bernice needed another second home," added Warren, "a place where she could shmooze, kibbitz with people, and be ‘matriarch’ of the kitchen."
Fortunately, she found Cong. B’nai Israel in Emerson, said Gary Schwinder, a trustee and former president of the shul who coordinated an event last week honoring the late congregant.
WABC-TV’s Chauncey Howell interviews Bernice Kuperinsky during a visit to Rumpernook. Her son and co-owner Warren is in the background, behind the counter.
The restaurant owner, a Paramus resident, was used to spending her days "serving up a storm," he said. Rumpernook was a popular eatery, winning media coverage on more than one occasion and attracting reporters such as WABC-TV’s Chauncey Howell, who interviewed Bernice and Warren at the restaurant.
No stranger to hard work and long days spent preparing food and serving customers, Bernice was at a loss when the restaurant closed. But when she and her husband Murray joined Cong. B’nai Israel, where Warren and Renee and their children Amy and Brandon were already members, Bernice found a new place to cook the synagogue kitchen. And, said Schwinder, from the time she joined until she died five years ago, she continued to cook up a storm.
On Feb. 3, the synagogue honored that contribution, after Shabbat services, by dedicating its refurbished kitchen in Bernice’s memory. Making the event even more meaningful, the meal was prepared by her son Warren.
According to Schwinder, whenever the synagogue was planning a milestone event or holiday party, Bernice and Warren went shopping for food. Then, returning to the shul with the food, Bernice began her preparations.
"She would sit there from Tuesday through Friday (the stool she always sat on is still in the kitchen), preparing whatever was needed," said Schwinder, noting that her meals generally fed 100 to 150 people. So constant a presence was Bernice in the kitchen that the synagogue added stairs and a railing to the back entrance, making it easier for her to use.
"When the synagogue social hall filled up and everyone was enjoying the food, Bernice would just sit in a corner and kvell," said Schwinder. "She loved talking to everyone, people of all ages."
The decision to renovate the synagogue kitchen was made several years ago, said Schwinder, who pointed out that the shul will celebrate its 50th anniversary in October.
"We knew we needed to refurbish the kitchen and [synagogue trustee] Meryl Kutzin came up with the idea of dedicating it to Bernice," he said. Money for the project accumulated over a period of about four years, he said, and then one synagogue member "stepped forward and offered to donate whatever additional funds were needed to complete the project."
Kutzin thanked members Henry and Joanna Ross at the dedication, saying that, thanks to them, "the remodeled kitchen has become a reality." Among other features, she said, the renovated room includes a new ceiling, brighter lighting, laminated walls, a walk-in storage room, and completely separate preparation facilities for meat and dairy cooking.
The refurbished facility was recently put to good use when the synagogue Sisterhood prepared a meal for Shelter Our Sisters in Teaneck. But most often, said Schwinder, it is the site for holiday preparations, whether for a latke dinner prepared by the men’s club or a Sukkot lunch catered by the sisterhood.
About 100 people attended the dedication luncheon, "a wonderful crowd," said Schwinder, and the food "was so tasty that people couldn’t stop talking about it and everyone was looking for leftovers." The lucky recipient, he said, was a congregant who was just finishing a hospital stay and was unable to attend.
The synagogue intended to pay for the meal through donations, said Schwinder, but "when we called Warren to ask him to reserve the date, he insisted on buying and preparing the food himself."
Hearing that the synagogue would be affixing a plaque to the hood of the new stove bearing his mother’s name and an inscription, "[Warrren] was very moved and insisted on sponsoring the event."
Congregants put in requests for his mother’s "signature dishes," said Schwinder, including, among other things, broccoli salad, stuffed cabbage, noodle pudding, roast chicken, and string beans almondine. Warren, who makes specialty chocolates, added home-made brownies to the menu.
The dedication, held on Tu B’Shevat and Shabbat Shirah, featured tables decorated with beautiful flowers, said Schwinder. "The rabbi called it a ‘trifecta’ for the synagogue," he said, explaining that it marked not only the New Year for Trees and the Sabbath of Song but also "the dedication of Bernice’s Kitchen."
Speaking at the dedication, Kutzin said, "You always felt uplifted when Bernice was around. She just brought out the best in everyone." Noting that "Bernice would be thrilled to be working in such a fabulous new kitchen in her second home," she read aloud the plaque affixed to the hood of the stove: "Bernice’s Kitchen This kitchen is lovingly dedicated to the memory of Bernice Kuperinsky and all the delicious meals she prepared for us here."