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William Greenberg Desserts Making Jewish New Year Sweet for 65 Years

By Amy Zimmer | September 28, 2011 7:33pm

UPPER EAST SIDE — The taiglach — honey balls with hazelnuts and candied fruit that's typically eaten on Rosh Hashanah to ring in a sweet new year — had already sold out at William Greenberg Desserts on Wednesday by 10 a.m.

The rugelach, challah and honey cake were almost gone a few hours later at the Madison Avenue bakery, which has been a mainstay for the Jewish holidays for 65 years.

"They have the best rugelach anywhere," said Janet Eden, 69, who lives in the East 30s and has been a loyal Greenberg shopper for 40 years.

"This is an old type of bakery from another generation," Eden said, as she waited outside for her friend to buy babka and rugelach. "This is the only store that's left."

Jonathan Elyachar shopping at William Greenberg on Weds., Sept. 28, 2011.
Jonathan Elyachar shopping at William Greenberg on Weds., Sept. 28, 2011.
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DNAinfo/Amy Zimmer

Edens's friend Barbara Finkelstein, 68, exited the shop, holding boxes and announcing, "$70 later..."

Finkelstein began going to Greenberg 60 years ago, but hadn't been there for more than two decades before Wednesday. Earlier in the day she was at a nail salon where all of the women were talking about going to the bakery for treats for the Jewish holiday.

The crowd jammed into the 1100 Madison Ave. shop, near East 83rd Street — and the empty storefront next door that Greenberg was using for pickups on big orders.

Carol Becker, who took over the bakery nearly four years ago, still employs many of its longtime bakers. She said the Jewish new year was one of her biggest days at the shop, with shipments going across the country.

"We've been here all night packing," she said in between filling orders.

Old Kosher bakeries have been disappearing from Manhattan's landscape — like Gertel's on the Lower East Side or Jon Vie in the West Village — leaving Greenberg as one of the last remnants. 

But Greenberg's landlords are happy to have them.

"It's great they have a big following," said one of the building's owners, Jonathan Elyachar, who was also buying goodies there. "They have been a great tenant," he added, noting their deep history on the block.  

"When I was little, everyone went to Greenberg's," said Judith Wolfberg, an "over 65" Boston transplant who visits Greenberg's whenever she's in town. "The best brownies in the world came from Greenberg's."

This time around she skipped the brownies and bought two boxes of schnecken — a kind of sticky bun baked in butter and brown sugar, and topped with raisins or nuts that the bakery is famous for.

When Wolfberg arrived, the line at Greenberg was out the door.

"I was very surprised there was such a crowd, because there are so many new bakeries," she said. "But it's still a big deal. It's one of the few places like it that remain. It's tradition."

That word, immortalized by Tevye, the milkman character in "Fiddler on the Roof," kept popping up again and again.

"Tradition," echoed Bob Cooper, known as the Mayor of Madison Avenue to many people who live and work in this part of the neighborhood.

"They created quality," added Cooper, 77, a Greenberg customer for 45 years.

He raised his kids, who went to P.S. 6 nearby, on Greenberg sweets and now is rearing his grandkids on Greenberg's famous black-and-white cookies.

When asked what he was picking up, Cooper said, "I don't know what I bought. My daughter placed the order and I just pay for it." 

He added: "It's for my grandkids. I'm not allowed to eat sweets." However, when he asks his four-year-old granddaughter for a taste, "she feeds me a crumb like a pigeon and pops it in my mouth."

"I've been coming here for 35 years," said Sherry Rosenstock, 64, who lives nearby and bought her sons' tennis- and basketball-themed Bar Mitzvah cakes from Greenberg many years ago. "I buy my challah here. It's the best."

Her favorite holiday treat is the schnecken, but she decided to skip it this year for "simpler" desserts like honey cake.

"I have a wedding to go to on Friday night," she said. "I need to fit into my dress."