ALL RIGHT, Savannah, are y'all ready to fress?
Any Jewish grandma would happily explain that “to fress” means “to eat with great gusto” in Yiddish. That same bubbe will also tell that you don’t need to know a shlemiel from a shlemazel to enjoy the Shalom Y’all Jewish Food Festival, loxing up Forsyth Park this Sunday, Oct. 26.
This year over 10,000 noshers—some coming straight from church—are expected to descend on booths stretching from Gaston Street to the fountain for a variety of traditional Jewish and Israeli treats, from vats of matzah ball soup to sizzling potato latkes to garlicky hummus.
Speaking of tradition (any Fiddler on the Roof fans out there?), what began in 1988 as a tiny fundraiser for Congregation Mickve Israel has evolved into one of the city’s most beloved culinary events. Connect readers voted it their favorite food festival in 2013, and it’s regularly touted as a “don’t miss” on TripAdvisor.
It’s also a massive undertaking to feed 10,000 people, no matter how many machers are in the kitchen. (Macher = “person who gets things done,” usually while other people are sleeping.)
New congregant Risa Perl didn’t quite know what she committed to when agreed to take on the role of chair this year. She quickly found out it’s a full-time job, one she has spent every day working on since March —along with studying for her adult bat mitzvah, the Jewish rite of passage.
“Fortunately, I’ve had the help of about 300 volunteers, who have not only helped make this festival happen but have also made me feel like I’ve been part of this community for years,” says Perl, who moved from Port St. Lucie, FL to help her son adjust to life at SCAD.
She celebrated her bat mitzvah last month, and it turns out she’s a real balabusta (kind of like a macher to the 100th power): “I’ve actually signed on to chair the festival for the next four years.”
Perl and her crew have baked and braised and stuffed and rolled to make sure you won’t leave hungry, but this gathering isn’t just about the food. Here’s five more fabulous things you’ll find at Shalom Y’all besides the fressing:
Habersham Beverages owner Bubba Rosenthal has arranged for many kegs of He’Brew Beer, crafted by Shmaltz Brewing Company in Clifton Park New York.
“We’ll be right across from the kosher hot dogs—what goes together better than a hot dog and beer?” asks Rosenthal.
Be sure to toss back that to-go cup of He’Brew with the traditional Jewish toast to life—L’chaim! (Pronounced “Le-HIGH-im,” with a little throaty growl the second syllable.)
The Sisterhood Baubles booth collects costume jewelry and donated earrings, necklaces and other adornments all year long to raise funds for the synagogue and its various charitable activities. Treasures abound, from tasteful pearl-drop pendants to stars of David the size of a hubcap.
Please note that no one, but NO ONE, hoards flowered brooches like the bubbes in this town.
From the first blow of the shofar (ram’s horn) that designates the commencement of the festivities, the stage around the Forsyth fountain will resonate with delightful music: Danielle Hicks and the Eight Ohm Resistance ought to wake up everyone’s appetites with a honeyed mix of blues, rock and reggae, which may inspire a spontaneous round of the hora.
They’ll be followed by the mellower sounds of the Savannah Philharmonic Trio (the bubbes always say that classical music is good for digestion.)
Should you feel the need to work off some of that extra chopped liver later in the afternoon, the Maxine Patterson School of Dance will lead a session of Israeli folk dancing.
2. Culture, dahlink
The Shalom Y’all Food Festival is an opportunity to support and learn about the third oldest Jewish congregation in America, established July 11, 1733—just five months after General Oglethorpe staked out the city of Savannah. (Take that, you Northerners who think the only Jewish people in the South live in Boca.)
Housed in the Gothic architectural gem on Monterey Square, Congregation Mickve Israel remains a tourist favorite (TripAdvisor users rank it No. 6 out of 122 attractions offered in the city) as well as a vibrant part of the Savannah community. Its members support dozens of interfaith and social justice activities each year, including Congregations in Service and Backpack Buddies, which provides food to local schoolchildren over the weekend.
Should you have any questions regarding Judaism, theology and/or Star Trek, to stop by the new “Ask the Rabbi” booth, manned by Mickve Israel’s Rabbi Robert Hass.
“This booth wasn’t my idea at all,” admits Rabbi Hass when asked why he chose to offer his sagacious services at the festival.
“The decision was made when I offered to cook.”
1. Who are we kidding? It's about the food.
People wait all year for a plate of those crispy, golden-fried potato latkes, served with a dollop of sour cream and spoonful of applesauce. Ditto for the deli sandwiches—served with your choice of corned beef, pastrami or tongue. Other savory dishes include tangy stuffed cabbage and Sizzling Sephardic Lamb.
Then there’s those sweet cheese-filled blintzes, or maybe you go in for noodle kugel, baked just right to get that crown layer of crunch.
Various sweets—including the rugelach ubiquitous in every bubbe’s cookie jar—are ready for your carbo-loading pleasure, along with 750 loaves of challah.
Buy food tickets at either end of the festival; each ticket is $1 and most items range from $3-$9. Everything is available to go, maybe for the sick friend who could use the medicinal benefits of matzah ball soup.
Speaking of soup, here’s the difference between a shlemiel and shlmazel: Both are real shmos, but the shlemiel is the guy who spills the soup and the shlemazel is the one who gets spilled upon.
But you, you’re the macher who gets in line long before both of them.
Shalom Y’all Jewish Food Festival
When: 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 26
Where: Forsyth Park
Cost: Admission is free; prices vary per dish
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