We’re coming to the end of Savannah’s most glorious month, and the last Sunday in October can only mean one thing: The Shalom Y’all Jewish Food Festival is ready to stuff you silly with stacks of cheesy blintzes, piles of golden latkes and vats of matzo ball soup.
It also means is that on the last Monday of October, hundreds of volunteers will be kvetching and soaking their feet in Epsom salts.
Listen, bubelehs, it’s a lot to shlep: Members of Congregation Mickve Israel have put on the annual fundraiser for almost 30 years, most of them in Forsyth Park, where around 10,000 people show up to nosh and enjoy free entertainment. It takes weeks for this crew of multi-generational mavens to cook, pack, set up and take down the festival, and frankly, it’s exhausting.
“The logistics of getting all this food from the kitchen to the Forsyth fountain and keeping it hot requires a lot of logistics and presents a lot of challenges,” says CMI Executive Director Jennifer Rich, who co-chaired the event last year. “The labor just got so intense.”
In order to save backs and costs, this year organizers decided to take it back to square one—literally: For the first time in almost two decades, the Shalom Y’all Jewish Food Festival will be serving it up in front of the historic synagogue on Monterey Square, the event’s original location.
Formerly known as The Hard Lox Café until the copyright lawyers caught wind of it, Shalom Y’all first began selling honeycakes and hamantaschen on the square in the 1980s, powered by some of the same congregants still cooking with schmaltz today.
“Our volunteer base is getting older, and we started to take a look at how we were going to make the festival sustainable for the next 20 years. It made sense to come back to our front yard,” explains Rich. “We’ve streamlined everything and minimized the distance, and we’re still going to be able to put on a phenomenal festival.”
Don’t let the location change cause you any tsuris—your favorite yiddishe goodies are all still here: The crispy potato latkes with plops of applesauce and sour cream, the corned beef sandwiches as big as your head, the sizzling lamb pitas, the tasty chopped liver, all to be washed down with a Dr. Brown’s soda or—if you’re 21+ and it’s between noon and 2:30pm—a He’Brew beer.
Arrive early to get your hands on one of the 500 pillowy loaves of challah baked by the homeboy mensches of Gottlieb’s Bakery, and stay for an extra helping of noodle kugel. New this year are Coney Island-style potato knishes and a new-and-improved recipe for triangle-shaped hamantaschen, part of the cookie cornucopia of mandelbrot, rugelach and chocolate babka baked by the CMI’s Sisterhood.
In the Jewish tradition of l’dor va dor—“from generation to generation”—Rich is sharing her Grandma Naomi’s matzo ball soup recipe, available in a cup or in 16-ounce take home containers because maybe you have a sick friend who needs a little Jewish penicillin?
Food booths and vendors will be arranged along Wayne Street and around the square, leaving the leafy center for eating and kibbitzing with friends old and new. The kids’ zone is bigger and better with more crafts and games, and dancing to the Klezmer Local 42 Band will help you burn off calories so you can go back for a second helping of stuffed cabbage. If supplies run low, it’s just a short walk back to the Mickve Israel kitchen for volunteers to restock.
The synagogue won’t be open to visitors this Sunday (you don’t want people in the kitchen when you’re throwing a party, nu?), but Rich says organizers are considering offering tours of the historic sanctuary and museum during future food festivals. For now, the third oldest Jewish community in America is content to invite all of Savannah to its front yard.
“It’s going to be a big block party,” promises Rich. “We’re welcoming the community back to our neighborhood.”