Babka and Braciole

Illustration by Katharina Davoudian

Babka and Braciole

Jenna Carellini

June 4, 2024


It’s a Wednesday afternoon when I got to Vita Siano’s house in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. She’s 86, my Italian American grandmother has lived in the same house since 1942 and has a love for Jewish food. Of all the facets of her life I wanted to learn more about, her love of Jewish food struck a particular chord. The young Italian American that I am has always felt connected to Jewish culture, maybe this was why.

It took all but seconds for her to begin to tell the part of her story that related to Jewish culture, specifically the culture that was happening in Bensonhurst. She moved to her two-family home on 19th Avenue and Cropsey Avenue at the age of 8 and it was soon after, at the age of 12, that she met her Jewish best friend, Gloria Kofsky. “We met playing on the street, I kept seeing her around the block, and over time, we just became friends,” she shared.

This friendship, which would last over 70 years, blossomed quickly, with a basis in food—the two became immersed and passionate about each other’s culture and traditions.

“Every Friday, I would sleep at Gloria’s house and we would have bagels, lox, whitefish, and the whole spread on Saturday morning, I loved it. Other Italians did not like the ‘real’ Jewish foods as I did. They liked brisket. I liked everything except kasha,” my grandma recalled.

She spoke of Gloria’s love of spaghetti and meatballs and how she adored Gloria’s Bubbie, who kept a Kosher household. Their friendship grew with them and their families, causing their own children to be culturally immersed as well. Gloria’s daughter Rhonda, noted, “I didn’t even know I was Jewish, all I ever ate was Italian food, your grandmother taught my mom how to cook and I was always jealous of the Easter dresses your mom wore.”

“This friendship, which would last over 70 years, blossomed quickly, with a basis in food—the two became immersed and passionate about each other’s culture and traditions.”

Weathering Gloria’s move to upstate New York and Florida, the two remained close friends until 2003 when Gloria passed away. But the influence this friendship had on my grandmother did not end with Gloria’s death, “It was such a shock. No one even told me she was sick. I was really heartbroken but my life would have been so different if I didn’t have a Jewish best friend, I would have been so different,” Vita said with a bittersweet tone.

While the story of this friendship and the cultural influence that the two families had on each other is quite personal, this connection between the Jews and Italians of Bensonhurst is seemingly universal.

According to the Brooklyn Jewish Historical Initiative, in the early 1900s, Bensonhurst Jewish immigrants, many of them Syrian or Egyptian Jews, joined the mix in the mostly Italian neighborhoods, and it was during this time that the connection between these groups formed. Margret Mosseri, an Egyptian Jew from Bensonhurst, who was quoted in an article regarding the Jewish Italian connection, noted that she grew up above an Italian bakery, and Aimee Cohen spoke in the same article stating that she felt this connection was built on the idea that at the time, Italians and Jews both shopped at the same grocery stores.

On a phone call with Arthur Schwartz, Italian and Jewish cuisine extraordinaire, restaurant critic, and former executive food editor of the New York Daily News, he shared some insight on the topic: “We had our own Italian restaurant and our own Chinese restaurant and our own Jewish deli, like every Brooklyn neighborhood, does.”

However, this connection, which again felt seemingly universal, came to a conclusive head when Vita brought up Hy Tulip, her favorite Jewish deli in Bensonhurst. An Italian American from Brooklyn that not only likes Jewish food but has a favorite Jewish deli, was something worth delving into.

She merely mentioned the deli was on 86th Street and that she went there “whenever she felt like having a hotdog.”

Of course, this topic seemed loaded and historical, which felt exciting, but it was at this moment that my quick internet search of “Hy Tulip Deli Bensonhurst,” received little to no historical information or evidence. There was no ground-breaking story on how a Jewish immigrant started the deli with two cents in his pocket or how this deli survives today with lines down 86th Street. What I was met with were countless recollections of Italian Americans from Bensonhurst and their feelings on the deli. None of the information factual, professional, or published, but instead from the fingers of “Joey from down the block” on Chowhound and Bensonhurst fan pages.

“While the story of this friendship and the cultural influence that the two families had on each other is quite personal, this connection between the Jews and Italians of Bensonhurst is seemingly universal.”

It was on these fan pages and food websites that these Brooklynites recalled a deli of their past: “Also fondly remembered was Hy Tulip’s Deli, to which I would make forays, usually over the busy street by way of the El Station, to get takeout orders of hot dogs and leaden but delicious knishes. This was back in the late 40s and in the 50s” and “I also lived on Bay 25 St near 86 St. much later. I was walking distance to Lenny’s pizza and Hy Tulip, what could be better?” noted two fans on the topic of Bensonhurst on

It was during this time that I read the pages of these comments and spoke to friends of my mother’s and grandmother’s and was told stories of hot dogs, corned beef sandwiches, and lunchtime meals between the local Italian Americans and Jews of 19th Avenue. I read of Ralph Scotto, an Italian delicatessen owner who had his start at Hy Tulip, ”My father broke his neck diving into a swimming pool,” he recalled. ”I took a bus to 86th Street, and there was a delicatessen called Hy Tulip. I walked up to the door. Marty Sachs, the owner, was throwing his dishwasher out. He gave me an apron, and I worked in the kitchen next to the guys making knishes.”

Next came a clipping from the 1970’s Daily News, noting the closing of Hy Tulip until 3 o’clock on Monday, June 29th. The picture and article noted that the deli was closing “in support of many good friends and customers on their Italian American Unity Day.”

The last and perhaps most iconic connection came from a page of Philip Carlo’s “The Iceman: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer,” where Nino Gaggi, a capo in the New York Gambino crime family, is seen double-parked in front of Hy Tulip in Bensonhurst. This Bensonhurst deli was a Jewish deli for Italian Americans and it seemed like they knew that.

According to my mom and grandma, the talk was that this deli closed sometime in the past couple of decades. But to the Italian Americans of Bensonhurst, it was just yesterday that they went to this deli on 86th Street when they “felt like having a hotdog.”




Jenna Carellini is a student and creator in the food space. She is passionate about the intersection of food-based knowledge and personal writing.