“This festival is by and for people who love Jewish food,” Lisa Colton, co-executive producer of the festival, told the Journal. A self-described serial entrepreneur living in Seattle, Colton came up with the idea for a virtual gathering celebrating Jewish food out of a desire to help small restaurants struggling under the coronavirus shutdowns.
“I was thinking about problem-solving for small food businesses, particularly in the Jewish space,” Colton said. “How might we use the expertise and energy and the need for new sources of revenue, plus the time and attention people have now, being at home, and the challenge that organizations face in pivoting their programming online? How could we solve for all those variables at the same time? And the idea of a virtual food festival was born.”
Colton then reached out to Jeffrey Yoskowitz, co-owner of The Gefilteria, a New York City-based food venture reimagining old Jewish foods, to help organize the festival.
Yoskowitz, who is co-producing the festival, told the Journal, “While people are sheltering in place, this will provide entertaining and dynamic content.”
That content includes discussion panels on “The State of the Deli,” “Millennials, Food and Engagement” and “Shavuot in the Sephardic Kitchen;” virtual happy hours for deli and kosher industry professionals; community Shabbat events and more. “This is a moment where we can bring people together,” Yoskowitz said.
In addition, Michael Solomonov, award-winning chef and co-owner of Israeli restaurant Zahav in Philadelphia, will lead a presentation on how to cook Shabbat dinner in the home, and American cookbook author Joan Nathan will discuss Jewish cooking in America — past and present.
Additional presenters include food writer and restaurant critic Ruth Reichl; cookbook author Adeena Sussman; Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen co-founder Evan Bloom; and San Francisco State University Assistant Professor of American Jewish Studies Rachel Gross, whose expertise includes Jewish food history.
While the festival is free, donations are encouraged. Funds raised will support a number of charities, including the James Beard Foundation Restaurant Relief Fund, the Jewish Food Society and Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger. Attendees who donate when they register can give to the festival’s general fund or choose to support one of the specific charities.
The festival runs through Shabbat and concludes shortly before the start of Shavuot on May 28.
As of May 15, the festival had raised approximately $28,000 and almost 6,000 people had registered, Colton said.
Food influencers are helping raise awareness for the festival. Earlier this month, L.A.-based food stylist Aliza Sokolow, who has been baking challahs to support local charities, posted an Instagram video showing her followers how to make and braid a challah with Za’atar.
Yoskowitz said he hopes the festival will add a little spice to participants’ safer-at-home quarantines. “Food and culture are grounding,” he said. “I think of a warm bowl of matzo ball soup and I think comfort. Even though we can’t feed people directly, we are looking to provide people with an opportunity to connect, and to me, that is something beautiful and precious.”