The history of the Jews in the United States has been a part of the American narrative since colonial times. And, like all people who emigrate, they brought their customs and traditions with them, and have woven them into the nation’s cultural tapestry, making us all the richer for it. The Ashkenazi Jews, who arrived on these shores from Eastern Europe, in addition to their religion and its traditions, brought with them music and food with which many North Americans are familiar, at least on a casual basis.
Many of those elements will be available from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, when the third annual Temple Beth Tefilloh Jewish Food & Culture Festival takes place in Jekyll Square, next to Tipsy McSway’s in downtown Brunswick.
Festival organizer Rande Simpson is excited about the event, which will take place for the first time downtown.
“We thought that moving to downtown Brunswick would be better suited, since the temple is in the historic district, and we are fundraising for the nearly 130-year-old building,” she said. We will be able to give tours of the temple during the festival since we are only a few blocks away.
“We also wanted to support downtown, and the DDA (Downtown Development Authority) has been really great and helpful. Also, Susan Bates of Tipsy’s offered to partner with us and use her kitchen facilities.”
Delectable delicacies will be available for sale. Simpson said most, but not all, of the food will be of Eastern European origin. Dishes will include kugel, latkes, blintzes, pastrami sandwiches and kosher hot dogs.
For the uninitiated, kugel, commonly made from noodles and cottage cheese, is a dish with a custard-like consistency. Raisins and cinnamon are common additions. No one knows exactly how old the dish is, but the first kugels were made from bread and flour and were savory, not sweet. Around 800 years ago, German cooks replaced the bread with noodles.
Latkes, according to the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, are potato pancakes that Ashkenazi Jews have prepared as part of Hanukkah since the mid-1800s, but the dish itself goes back to at least the Middle Ages. These fried potato delights are generally accompanied by sour cream or applesauce.
Two Israeli dishes will be featured at the festival.
“We will also have Israeli salad, and we are so excited that Chef Kate Buchanan from Indigo Coastal Shanty will be preparing Israeli falafel at the festival,” Simpson said. “Falafel are spicy chickpea balls in pita with a sauce. My mouth waters just thinking about it.”
Israeli salad, according to allrecipes.com, is commonly found at falafel stands throughout Israel. It can be served as a side dish or inside a pita, and is made with chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, and parsley drizzled with a dressing of lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and mint. The website says Israeli salad is the perfect complement to falafel, hummus and tahini, but also works as a side dish with any number of foods from the Mediterranean region.
Food for sale will also include baked goods such as Challah (bread), hamantashen, a special holiday cookie and macaroons.
Simpson said the temple will also be selling raffle tickets that include prizes like kayak tours from Southeast Adventure Outfitters, a Tiffany-style lamp and restaurant gift certificates.
“We will also be selling handmade bread and cheese boards that were made from some of the original temple wood that was saved during one of our restoration projects,” she said. “They are handmade by a temple member who is a master craftsman and the wood is … really historic and blessed.”
Israeli dancing will be a central part of the festivities, and this year, attendees will have the opportunity to groove to the Marla Tov Cocktails. The Atlanta-based group is fronted by Marla Feeney.
The Marla Tov Cocktails play klezmer music, also a tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe. Various musical styles influenced the music, most predominantly, Romanian. Klezmer music is secular, and also draws from gypsy and French folk music traditions. A true form of “roots” music, it is a very powerful and emotional genre.
Admission to the festival is free, and tickets will be sold for food, water and soft drinks. Beer and wine will be sold by Tipsy McSway’s.
All the proceeds from the festival will benefit Temple Beth Tefilloh, a Reformed Jewish temple founded in 1886, that sits at the corner of Monck and Egmont streets in Brunswick. The building is in need of repairs, and an ongoing restoration has been under way for a number of years.