Festival highlights Jewish and Israeli flavors
Falafel, vegetarian schwarma with hummus, matbucha Moroccan tomato salad and pita, all paired with a hearty serving of baklava for dessert and washed down with mint lemonade: This is just one of combinations that will be served at the Celebration Israel Festival of Food and Culture on Sunday, May 4. Also on the menu are helpings of boreka (fried cheese pastries) halvah (a sweet blend of sesame and pistachios), sweet kugel (cheese pie) and marzipan-stuffed dates.
Other than being delicious and fun to pronounce, these foods play an integral part in Jewish and Israeli culture. “Ask any Jewish cook, and they have a list of their favorite family recipes,” says chef Bruce Brown, who is a second-generation American with deep Eastern European roots that show in his cooking.
Brown and volunteers from Asheville’s Jewish community and Congregation Beth Israel are cooking up a storm in the congregation’s kitchen to feature some of their favorite authentic Israeli dishes at the festival. Attendees can be sure that the foods eaten in Jerusalem to celebrate Israel’s 66th year of independence will be similar to those served at Asheville’s celebration this weekend.
Dr. Michael Weizman, who helped found the festival with his parents, Hanan and Goldie Weizman, notes that the festival’s growth has been astounding, attracting a great number of non-Jewish community members and even drawing attendees from the Jewish communities in surrounding cities. Acknowledging the sometimes negative press that Israel receives, he says, “The celebration of Israel should transcend religion, cultural background and politics. We’ve always felt the best way to position this celebration was through the sharing of Israeli food and culture — things that people of all backgrounds could relate to.”
“Everyone can relate to food,” says festival organizer Sally Gooze. She explains that the majority of the foods at the festival will be vegetarian and vegan to abide by kosher regulations and Jewish tradition but that they will also please a number of palates, regardless of religious affiliation. And of course, no Beer City would be complete without offering a few Israeli specialty lagers. Prices range from $7 to $10 for Israeli platters with other Israeli street food options at $3 and Israeli desserts for just a buck.
Brown explains that the festival is truly a group effort by the congregation to nourish and celebrate Jewish culture in Asheville. “Everyone is welcome to help cook, from the teenagers on up,” he says, noting that one day there were five members from three generations of one family in the kitchen.
Although for many the main event is the food, this year’s festival also includes a free kid zone with various activities, continuous live music from several area bands, acrobatic performances, local arts and crafts vendors and more. There will also be a live auction, with items including a painting by Jonas Gerard and a Moog Foundation synthesizer, each valued at over $1,000.
“Asheville, being the eclectic and diverse community that it is, should be no exception with its effort to celebrate modern-day Israel,” says Weizman.
The Celebration Israel Festival of Food and Culture will be held 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, May 4, at Congregation Beth Israel, 229 Murdock Ave. 252-8660