Tuesday, December 1, 2009

East Village Dumplings For The Lord

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an excerpt from a nytimes article from 9/30/07By ADAM B. ELLICK
AS the sun rises over the imposing blue-green dome of the St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church on East Seventh Street near Third Avenue in the East Village, a small volunteer army of elderly women, many with shawls wrapped around their heads, descend into a nameless luncheonette across the street. The earliest arrivals limp in at 6 in the morning. Once inside, the women scurry around the chromed kitchen, colliding like slow-motion bumper cars.
Every Friday morning for more than three decades, these women have been hand-rolling 2,000 plump potato dumplings known as Ukrainian varenyky. The dumplings are then twice boiled, coated in a buttered onion sauce, and sold throughout the weekend. The annual proceeds of up to $80,000 go to the church, whose parish is more than a century old.
Varenyky have long been a traditional part of the diet for many of the 70,000 natives of Ukraine who live in the city, and who flock to the luncheonette on weekends from neighborhoods like Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, and Ozone Park, Queens.
Last spring, when four of the elderly women died, the luncheonette closed for several weeks and, like most of the institutions in a once-vibrant Slavic enclave that has since yielded to hipsters, seemed destined to vanish entirely. But on Sept. 9, after a summer of rest and contemplation, the remaining women returned and resumed their labors.
“They will say they won’t do it: ‘I’m not coming back, I’ve had enough of this, I’m tired, I’m worn out, I need to rest,’” said the Very Rev. Bernard Panczuk, the church’s pastor. “And the next week, you look, and they are back.”
Daria Kira, a freckled 85-year-old, embodies the resiliency of this group. She spent 20 days in the hospital last spring after leg surgery to treat cancer. But on the morning of Sept. 9, she woke up at 4 to ensure a timely arrival at the luncheonette’s reopening. The trip took 30 minutes.
Perhaps she came from Brooklyn? “No,” Ms. Kira replied with a sheepish laugh. “From Second and Houston.”
By 10 a.m., she was churning out tissue-thin slices of dough from an archaic wooden rolling machine that may predate its users, who range in age from 64 to “near 100.”
“My leg still hurts me,” said Ms. Kira, who had been on her feet for four hours. “But I work because it’s the church.”
Ms. Kira is chatty; some of her co-workers, among them Julia Warchola, a stern-faced 73-year-old, are less so. “No questions!” she barked at a visitor as she lifted a huge pot of boiling water. “Too much work to do.”
All but two of the women are widowed, and many of them tell harrowing tales about their early life in war-torn Eastern Europe.

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