Schenectady Jewish food festival offers culinary delights (with photo gallery)

Four little bakers were learning to make matzo in the lobby of Congregation Gates of Heaven Sunday a

Four little bakers were learning to make matzo in the lobby of Congregation Gates of Heaven Sunday afternoon. Dressed in white aprons and caps, they stood on tiptoes to reach the table where Rabbi Mendy Mathless, of Chabad of the Capital District, sprinkled flour and plopped down balls of white dough.

“Matzo is the main food of Passover,” he told the boys. “A matzo bakery has a special brick oven. It’s very, very hot. How hot do you think your mother’s oven gets when she’s making chicken?” he asked.

“Maybe like 100 or 300 degrees,” replied 8-year-old Isaiah Gershon of Rotterdam. “That’s about right. Do you know how hot a matzo oven is? Nine hundred degrees,” Mathless said. After the hands-on demonstration was done, he gave the boys a piece of the unleavened bread to take home with them.

That cooking class was a prelude to the multitude of Jewish culinary delights that awaited inside the synagogue. Unlimited samples of all sorts of traditional foods like brisket, blini, latkes and matzo ball soup were served up as part of the synagogue’s 9th annual Jewish Food Festival.

Caterers and congregants passed out their specialties to a large, appreciative crowd.

Joyce Rubin of Saratoga Springs was eating a steaming bowl of matzo ball soup. “This is a wonderful festival. We look forward to it every year. We’ve been coming since it started and we wouldn’t miss it,” she said.

Food was served in two rooms. In the larger space, most of it was home-prepared, noted Pete Kopcha, co-chair of the event.

“I love the knishes, I love the chopped liver, I love the matzo ball soup, I love the brisket,” he raved.

Co-chair Jay Rourke was pleased with the crowd that was congregating at the food stations.

“We typically have 600 or 700 people who come through the door,” he said, noting that the event is a fundraiser for the social action initiatives of the congregation.

Cheryl Berkof of Niskayuna had a plate full of noodle kugel, potato pancakes, herring, gefilte fish and potato knish. “It’s wonderful. There’s stuff for the kids, new stuff to try, people make stuff, it’s catered, it’s a little of everything,” she said.

Leah Wolff-Pellingra, family worship coordinator at the synagogue, was serving honey from beekeeper Lloyd Spear of Schenectady drizzled on challah from the New Mt Pleasant Bakery.

“Challah is a bread that we serve for festivals,” she explained. “Challah is made with eggs, and honey gives sweetness to the holiday. That’s why we eat honey on challah typically on the new year, in hope of a sweet new year.”

Congregant Del Salmon was slicing thin slices of salmon to put on bagels. “I do this every year because Del Salmon should make the salmon,” he joked. “I make it myself. It’s called gravlax and rather than being smoked, it’s cured with salt, sugar, pepper, cognac and dill.”

Robert Rahal, owner of Phoenicians Restaurant in Albany, was serving beef and chicken shawarma and falafel. “It’s heart-healthy food. You can’t beat Mediterranean food. It’s where the buck stops,” he said.

Saati Catering of Latham was serving artfully presented smoked whitefish in the shape of a large fish, covered with thin slices of cucumbers that looked like fish scales.

Leiah Bowden of Schenectady was enjoying a little bit of everything. “I like to come here and I have breakfast, lunch and dinner between noon and 3:30,” she said with a laugh.

Categories: Schenectady County

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