Hundreds enjoy traditional fare at Jewish food festival

Erica Berger serves brisket in one of the many food lines. (Marc Schultz/Gazette Photographer)Erica Berger serves brisket in one of the many food lines. (Marc Schultz/Gazette Photographer)

Just like Grandma used to make

BY MATTHEW L. McKIBBEN
Gazette Reporter

SCHENECTADY — Judaism isn’t just a religion for Congregation Gates of Heaven Rabbi Matthew Cutler. It’s a community and a culture in which the soul has a correlation with the stomach.

“Jews have been dispersed all over the world and because of that the food they make is very different,” Cutler said. “Jews in Eastern Europe have a very different cuisine from Jews in the Middle East so this is a great place to experience all the different flavors of the Jewish culture.”

The advice Cutler — who for his own part is a “brisket guy” — gives to those who attended the congregation’s Jewish Food Festival on Sunday: Be prepared to eat food that reminds you of your grandmother’s cooking.

“The food here is extremely authentic and very homemade,” he said. “People spend a lot of time preparing the food and they take great pride in it.”

Roughly 600 people attended the 12th annual edition of the event on Sunday at Congregation Gates of Heaven in Schenectady.

Dillon Dunbar enjoys an assortment of hot dogs on many plates during the festival. (Marc Schultz/Gazette Photographer)

Dillon Dunbar enjoys an assortment of hot dogs on many plates during the festival. (Marc Schultz/Gazette Photographer)

Traditional Jewish food including brisket, matzo ball soup, kugels, knishes, gefilte fish and chopped liver were all prepared by congregants. Capital Region restaurants and caterers including Price Chopper, Gershons and Homestyle Caterers also distributed food at the event.

Erica Berger was serving four styles of brisket at Sunday’s event, each prepared in a different type of sauce.

“People love the brisket here,” she said. “I had one little boy come up four different times because he liked it so much.”

Berger added that she also enjoys connecting with members of the congregation and the entire community.

“It’s fun coming here and being a part of such a great festival,” she said. “You know, at every festival I learn something about food or our culture that I didn’t know, which is just an added benefit to being able to eat all this great food.”

Del Salmon — appropriately enough — was slicing salmon in strips so thin that they were nearly see-through to make gravlax, a dish in which the raw fish cures in salt, sugar and dill.

“I try to get them as thin as possible because I think that creates the best flavor,” said Salmon, a member of the temple. “I am an attorney but this is really my passion.”

James Cohen of Schenectady said he had no problem paying $15 to enter the festival because “you can’t find pastrami and brisket this good anywhere else.”

“It’s incredible, I wish I could just take home a huge platter of it,” he said. “I come almost every year because, it sounds funny, but I can just stuff my face with all this great food.”

Dorothy Myer and Lorna Snapp, of the Social Action Committee, were informing visitors of the work they do in the Schenectady School District.

“We sponsor about 30 backpacks per year for kids who can’t afford backpacks,” Snapp said. “We also fill the book bags with food at the end of each week for the kids to bring home for themselves and there parents.”

See the photo gallery of 12th annual edition of the event on Sunday at Congregation Gates of Heaven in Schenectady here.

About the Author

Rebecca Isenhart
Rebecca Isenhart is the reporter/writer for Your Niskayuna, presented by the Daily Gazette of Schenectady.