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My Breakfast with the Gefilteria Gang (Repost from The Forward)

17 Aug

The following was originally published by The Forward on August 16, 2016.  One of the subjects of the article, Jeffrey Yoskowitz, is the son of Sarasota resident Dr. Arnold Yoskowitz.  Here is the link to the original article.


By Leah Koenig

w-alpern-yoskowitz-1471293480Last week, I had breakfast with Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern (pictured above: photo credit Lauren Volo) — co-founders of the boutique Jewish food company, Gefilteria, and authors of the forthcoming cookbook “The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods”.

We gathered for bagels at Hudson Eats, an upscale food court on the southern tip of Manhattan that has become a mothership of artisanal foods, including a kiosk of the wood fired bagel shop, Black Seed Bagels. Inside a glass-filled atrium with Gucci and Burberry shops looming nearby, our surroundings felt oddly opulent. But the bagels were still warm, and the wide tables overlooking the glinting river outside were great for catching up with some old friends.

For the near-decade that I have known, dined with and occasionally collaborated with Jeff and Liz, they have always felt like kindred spirits. Like me, they are people who got into the world of Jewish food not because it was trendy, but because it felt like an authentic expression of who they are, and because they sensed they might have something to add to the conversation.

Starting from scratch, they wrote a manifesto about the importance of reclaiming Jewish cuisine’s time-honored foods and launched their business with a high-quality take on Ashkenazi cuisine’s most infamous appetizer, gefilte fish. Their version is a far-cry from the soulless jarred stuff that most people associate with gefilte fish. It is made in small batches, uses sustainable fish, and is truly delicious, even without a dollop of horseradish.

In the days before Passover in 2012 — their first holiday in business as gefilte fish makers — they spent hours in a cramped synagogue kitchen in New York’s East Village grinding hundreds of pounds of fish while a young Yiddish singer (another friend of mine, Benjy Fox-Rosen), played a CD-release concert in the social hall outside. Quite an auspicious way to start a Jewish food business, no?

“Everything we did for the first three years of our company was new to us. We just had to jump in and learn on the job,” Yoskowitz said. As someone who has made a career as a food writer without formal culinary training or a degree in journalism, I know the feeling. “Luckily, people took the leap of faith with us,” Alpern said. “And soon, we became the gefilte people.”

Early on, they toyed with what it might mean to scale up their artisanal gefilte fish to compete with the big boys of Jewish food production like Manischewitz or Rokeach. But they quickly realized that was not the path they wanted. “The bigger you get, the more divorced you become from the food you’re producing,” Alpern said. “We couldn’t imagine sitting in some board room making decisions far away from the actual food.”

“What we really wanted was to put our recipes directly in people’s hands and give them the confidence to make this food,” Yoskowitz said. So they doubled doubled down on the educational portion of their mission. While continuing to offer their gefilte fish seasonally (around Passover and Rosh Hashanah), they began to travel around the country to teach cooking classes and host pop up events and dinners — including the Passover seder at the James Beard Foundation — that showcase Ashkenazi food at its best.

Their book, out in mid-September, is another major step in that direction. The collection of recipes aims to, as Yoskowitz put it, “recover the flavors of Ashkenazi cooking that got lost as Jews moved from Eastern Europe to America, or even from the Lower East Side to the suburbs and beyond.” So there’s a chapter on soups and dumplings and another on the many varieties of pickles that once brightened up the Ashkenazi table in the dead of winter. There are recipes for creamy noodle kugels with spiced plums, home-cured pastrami and updated classics like kimchi-stuffed cabbage. One of my favorite recipes is a homemade butter flavored with everything-bagel spice — a perfect breakfast spread to pair with a slice of Jewish rye or a bialy (both recipes that can be found in the book.)

Another delightful case in point is the cookbook’s recipe for Roast goose with apples and onions. In the old country, geese were prized within the Jewish household for their ribbons of fat (great for rendering into schmaltz), their feathers for down pillows, and, of course, their meat for roasting. “In the early 20th century, you could find Jews trying to raise geese on the Lower East Side,” Yoskowitz said. Of course, the practice of raising backyard poultry didn’t stick in Manhattan, and geese were replaced by the more industrial-friendly chicken. “The Gefilte Manifesto’s” recipe, then, helps capture a food that once delighted our ancestors, and brings it to the contemporary table.

For those cooks who might be intimidated by the thought of roasting a whole goose or making homemade pickled beets, fret not. Many of the dishes in “The Gefilte Manifesto” fall into the quick-and-easy category. And for those that are more of a project, Yoskowitz and Alpern offer substitutions and workarounds. “We provide shortcuts that don’t dilute the quality or spirit of the dishes,” Yoskowitz said. In other words, you won’t find wonton wrappers subbing in for dough in their kreplach. But if you don’t have a batch of homemade lacto-fermented pickles on hand to make their pickle brine bread, they suggest subbing in the liquid from a store-bought jar.

Talking with my friends over breakfast, I couldn’t help but kvell for them. Their gefilte fish, their events and now their cookbook are changing the conversation of what it means to make and connect with Ashkenazi Jewish food.


100 Days of Impact: Empowering

30 Oct

Temple Beth Sholom Schools Donates Harvested Garden Veggies
to All Faiths Food Bank Sprout Program

“As part of our Native American studies curriculum at TBS Schools, our Second and Third graders planted corn, beans and squash this season. We thought partnering with All Faiths Food Bank for this harvest would truly exemplify our service based initiatives here at the school, demonstrating to our students how important it is to give back to the community,” said Robin Sweeting, assistant principal at TBS Schools.

TBS Schools students with All Faiths Food Bank staff in front of the Sprout mobile food truck with their harvest

TBS Schools students with All Faiths Food Bank staff in front of the Sprout mobile food truck with their harvest

In addition to the corn, beans and squash, students harvested onions, kale, radishes, and several other vegetables that were full grown. Students picked the fresh veggies and loaded them onto the All Faiths Food Bank Sprout truck. The Sprout mobile produce program is the first of its kind in the area, which delivers fresh fruits and veggies to almost 5,000 families in Sarasota County. “We could not be more thrilled to see kids helping kids in the community,” said Sandra Frank, executive director of All Faiths Food Bank, who stopped by to thank the children personally.

TBS Schools look forward to expanding their student service learning projects for the 2014/2015 school year with a generous grant from The Jewish Federation of Sarasota–Manatee. The grant, “Family, School, Community, The World!” will provide an opportunity to expand the connections already developed, as well as foster new service learning projects with additional organizations in our community.

TBS School Kids

In addition to working with All Faiths Food Bank, the students have provided technology training to seniors at the Kobernick House, led craft and cooking activities for young adults at Easter Seals, tutored children at Everyday Blessings, and baked goods, created Thanksgiving decorations, and donated clothing and household items to the Salvation Army Family Shelter. Now with the support of The Jewish Federation of Sarasota–Manatee, they will be able to impact our community in an even greater way.


100 Days of Impact from The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee

100 Days of Impact from The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee


100 Days of Impact started on September 22 and will run through the end of 2014. Each week we will demonstrate the the collaborative impact that we and our donors make locally and globally.


You are the Jewish community. This is your Federation. Together, we do extraordinary things!

Purim Memories from Israel

14 Mar

Orna as a child dressed up for Purim

Being asked to tell you how Purim is celebrated in Israel brought  back  some of the happiest times of my childhood. I still have memories of how  I couldn’t wait for the holiday to arrive.  Weeks before the festivities,  my classmates and I would talk about  little else.  The anticipation was almost unbearable with  enthusiasm and wild imagination as to which costume we would choose.  In the late 70’s, the most popular costumes were a hippie and a cowboy.

Our teachers, of course, had stimulated this wonderful atmosphere by teaching us the story of Purim prior to the holiday as prescribed by the Israeli school system. Our families were asked to prepare OZNAI HAMAN (hamantaschen- a sweet pastry filled with  poppy seeds)  which we brought to school and consumed with great delight.  We were busy preparing RA-SHANIM (noise makers) in the art classes and twirled them while walking in the street parade.  Purim songs were heard all over the street.  You can hear some of these songs here.

As I got older I also celebrated Purim with the ADLOYADA (Purim Carnival).  And, how great was that;   AD DE-LO-YADA, translated, means “until one no longer knows.”  According to the rabbis, participants should celebrate on Purim until they no longer know the difference between  “blessed be Mordecai” and “cursed be Haman”.  I still recall with awe the beautiful processions of carnival floats which, by the way, parade down the streets of major Israeli towns to this day.  And night clubs up and down the country chalk Purim up as their biggest night of the year.

Any Israeli will tell you that Purim is embraced by the entire country with tremendous joy and pride. Religious Jews in Jerusalem as well as secular Jews in Tel Aviv celebrate far beyond its original religious roots.  Purim in Israel truly is a fascinating time to be in the country.  As for myself, I treasure my Purim memories and the warmth and joy  that they have imbedded in my heart.

We at the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee wish you CHAG PURIM SAMEACH – HAPPY PURIM.

Orna Nissan is the Director of Holocaust Education & Israel Programs at The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee.

Celebrating the Trees

21 Jan

Federation’s Young Ambassadors planting trees in Israel, June 2013

This past Thursday, January 16th, we celebrated the birthday of the trees, or Tu B’Shevat. This minor Jewish holiday is celebrated on the 15th day of Shevat to rejoice in the “New Year of the Trees” and enhance our ecological awareness. Modern-day celebrations in Israel have morphed into quasi “Earth Day” festivities akin to how Americans celebrate Mother Nature on April 22nd.

Why exactly do we celebrate Tu B’Shevat and how do we honor the trees? American tradition holds that we have several “New Year” celebrations including January 1st, the start of the student school year and the start of the fiscal year for a business. Similarly, Judaic traditions don’t just stop at the 1st of the year (Rosh Hashanah). The writings say that we celebrate Tu B’Shevat to mark a day to calculate the ages of trees. No matter when the tree was planted, it has aged one year, according to tradition, by the time Tu B’Shevat rolls around the subsequent year. The 16th century Kabbalists began holding a seder on this day. Their seder highlighted the significance of both fruit and the shivat haminim (Seven Species: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates) in our faith. Modern-day celebrations include a seder and/or a more literal celebration of the trees with physical planting (or collecting donations to plant trees in Israel).

While this holiday is not mentioned in the Torah and is categorized as a “minor” holiday, it is still custom to take this day to honor our environment and the sustenance with which Mother Nature provides us.


Sammy Robbins is the Joseph J. Edlin Journalism Intern at The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee.

My First Thanksgivukkah!

5 Dec

ImageTalk about once in a lifetime events! For the first time since 1888, Chanukah and Thanksgiving fell on the same day and it was certainly an event to remember. Who thought that these two non-related holidays could mesh so well… of course I’m talking about the food at the table.  This collision of what have become food-centered holidays in the minds of many was quite the treat. Luckily our friends at BuzzFeed provided a plethora of innovative ideas to combine the holidays and my family may have stolen a recipe or two.  Our dinner table consisted of items such as your traditional turkey (cooked by yours truly), latkes but we X’ed the apple sauce and sour cream for cranberry sauce instead; we even tried this crazy idea of challah stuffing and it was incredible! It’s funny how we get accustomed to the same traditional foods and practices but when there is an uncontrollable change such as the clash we encountered last week, it opens up a whole new world for us. I can certainly tell you that I will not be reverting back to just the traditional turkey and sweet potato pie for Thanksgiving, even though the convergence of these holidays will not happen again for almost another 80,000 years (or something like that)! Good thing though as I think most of us are still in food coma recovery mode.

What new traditions or foods did your family try this Thanksgivukkah?  Inquiring minds want to know…

Len Steinberg is the Assistant Program Director at The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee and the Youth Group Director at Temple Sinai.

Chanukah…thanks for the memories

27 Nov

Sufganiyot in Ma’alot

Each year during Thanksgiving I reflect on the many blessings for which I am thankful.  This year, with the first day of Chanukah coinciding with Thanksgiving, I also have recollections of Chanukahs past which also give me reason to give thanks.

I remember my father, who passed away in March, making his annual batch of potato latkes.  While he did not cook much, latkes for Chanukah were his specialty.  One year, my husband, daughter and I spent Chanukah in Jerusalem.  We walked through the Old City marveling at the oil-burning Hanukiah in the windows of every home. We went to The Great Synagogue, singing Maoz Tzur realizing that we were part of a world-wide Jewish community. Last year, I spent the last two nights of Chanukah in Ma’alot, a town in northern Israel six miles from Lebanon. I was staying in a hotel full of families as it was the Chanukah vacation from school.  I joined in to the light the Hanukiah and indulge in sufganiyot thinking about how thankful I was that there was peace and celebration in this corner of the world which suffered a devastating attack in 1974.

This year, in addition to being thankful for my family and Jewish community, I will be gratefully celebrating both holidays with family and friends in my home.  In deference to Thanksgivukkah, there will be sweet potato latkes on the table…Dad would have loved them.

Ilene Fox is the Director of Women’s Philanthropy at The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee.

Thanksgivukkah: A New Tradition

14 Nov

On November 28th, 2013, Jews around the United States will be celebrating a hybrid holiday—Thanksgiving and Hannukah. Happening last in 1888 and not occurring again for another 77,798 years, the conjunction of Thanksgiving and Hannukah is going to be oh so special. The second night of Hannukah, or the first full day of the Holiday, is miraculously occurring on the American’s annual day to give thanks for our friends, family, and remember the Pilgrim’s notable arrival at Plymouth in 1621.

Bloggers, rabbis, and the like are all commenting on this special occurrence. Recipe websites like this one and alternative candle-lighting ceremonies have popped up all over the Internet. Foodies are suggesting latkes with cranberry sauce, Maneschewitz-brined roast turkey, and challah-apple stuffing. Jews are rejoicing in the fact that this is the only time these two holidays will combine in their lives. From what I’ve seen online, they’re definitely getting creative with food options and finding innovative ways to intertwine the deeper meaning of the two celebrations.

It will surely be exciting to go around the table, person-to-person, giving thanks for the important things and people in our lives while also gazing over at a partially-lit Menorah. I am happy I get to experience this hybrid holiday this year!


Sammy Robbins is the Joseph J. Edlin Journalism Intern at The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee.