In a time in which we see the rise of the “alt-right” and increased instances of anti-Semitic vandalism, organizers of ShalomFest ’17 hope the ninth annual Jewish cultural festival will promote harmony in the Upstate.
“In the spirit of building unity, I hope people come out to ShalomFest to appreciate our culture,” says Amy Bagwell, member of Temple of Israel, the festival’s organizer.
In particular, Bagwell and fellow volunteers are using food to accomplish that goal.
“For any culture, if you sit down and eat their food, it creates a connection and understanding; it can make you feel a connection in a way hearing or listening can’t,” says Temple of Israel Rabbi Jeremy Master. “It’s a very important part of the experience.”
On April 2, Temple of Israel is hosting ShalomFest to give the Greenville community a Jewish experience through food, music, dance, and rituals. The fest will also feature a screening and panel discussion of “The Rosenwald Connection,” a documentary about how former slaves and a Jewish philanthropist came together to create hundreds of African-American schools across the country. Recently, the Greenville Journal wrote about the Rosenwald schools and their influence on the Upstate’s African-American community.
But as important as that is, for Greenville foodies the main attraction will be ShalomFest’s edible attractions — homemade Jewish pastries, matzah ball soup, and latkes. Most of these dishes and treats are made by congregants on site in the temple’s commercial kitchen.
The emphasis on food during the festival is similar to the emphasis cuisine has in Jewish rituals and holidays, much as it is in other religious traditions.
“Even the one we fast for, we still eat at the end of the day,” Bagwell says, referring to Yom Kippur. “We joke that all of our holidays are basically ‘Jewish people being almost killed, we overcome, so we celebrate and eat.’”
For eight years Bagwell co-chaired the ShalomFest pastry-making efforts, which begin in January prior to the festival. For 10 Sundays congregants meet to make pastries that will be available during the festival. Total, the bakers spend about 60 hours in the kitchen.
“One year, I touched 7,000 pieces,” she says.
This year Bagwell took a step back and is leading only one day of apple cake baking.
“I love baking,” she says. “The sense of family, baking together for a day, is really special. I tend to show my love and care for people through food.”
Many of the Jewish delicacies available at ShalomFest have special significance relating to particular holidays, while others are regional specialties from Eastern European Jews, known as Ashkenazi, or from Middle Eastern Jews, known as Sephardic Jews.
For instance, hamentaschen is a triangle-shaped dough filled with fruit or poppy seed filling that is eaten during Purim, the celebration of Queen Esther’s saving the Jewish people from death. The triangle shape is meant to represent the ear of Haman, who sought to destroy the Jewish population and who was ultimately executed.
Coconut macaroons are eaten during Passover because no leavening can be eaten during that time.
“Ours are delicious,” Bagwell says. “They are much better than those hockey pucks in a can you can buy at the grocery store.”
Matzah ball soup is also a Passover staple.
“It’s not Passover unless you have matzah ball soup,” Master says. “You learn to crave and look forward to the specific foods with each holiday.”
April 2, 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
400 Spring Forest Road
Sampling of pastries for sale:
Hamentaschen (Fruit filled pastry served at Purim)
Rugelach (Crescent shaped cookie filled with raisins and nuts)
Strudel (Flaky layered pastry with a sweet filling)
Macaroons (Cookie made from egg whites and coconut; eaten at Passover)
Mandel Bread (Twice baked cookie similar to biscotti)
Matzah Brittle (Matzah baked with caramel, chocolate, and nuts)
Chocolate Babka (Yeast-based chocolate swirl cake with streusel topping)