Cars filled the parking lot and lined the sidewalk outside the Congregation Gates of Heaven on Sunday as hundreds of people packed the temple to sample Jewish food and culture.
The fifth-annual food festival raised about $10,000 for the congregation, according to Rabbi Matt Cutler.
“It’s our single largest fundraiser of the year,” Cutler said. “It is to celebrate the diversity of who we are as a people. Judaism is more than a religion.”
Members of the temple cooked traditional Jewish food such as matzo ball soup, knishes and falafel.
Caterers and restaurants also gave away free food at the festival.
Valerie Saati, whose husband owns Saati Catering in Albany, was at a table near the door with whitefish salad. The salad combines whitefish and whipped mayonnaise.
A real fish head and fish tail were placed on either end of the table and the salad was arranged to look like the body of a fish. Cucumbers looking like scales covered the salad.
“We’re very active in the Jewish community. We’re primarily kosher caterers,” Saati said. “People get to actually taste our food and see what we’re all about.”
Other local caterers at the food festival included Glen Sanders Mansion and Turf Tavern in Scotia.
Meanwhile, Richard Berkowitz’s matzo ball soup was one of three entries in the temple’s first-ever matzo ball soup contest. Berkowitz’s soup was made with chicken, celery, carrots, onions and matzo balls.
His soup didn’t win, but he said he’ll try again next year. Judges for the contest included former Asemblyman Paul Tonko and Niskayuna Central School District Superintendent Kevin Baughman.
“It’s a great event. You’re supporting the community, supporting the temple,” Berkowitz said. “There’s lots of good food, lots of good exhibitors.”
Berkowitz lives in Halfmoon and has been coming to the temple with his wife and two children for the last 10 years. He is also on the Halfmoon Planning Board.
“I had some matzo ball soup and some ice cream,” said 10-year-old Renee Berkowitz. “I like the games downstairs where I can make, like, towers out of marshmallows and sticks.”
Event organizer Jordan Lohre estimated that 800 people attended this year’s festival in the temple at 852 Ashmore Ave.
“Food is a part of every celebration,” he said. “Food is what brings families together to the table. I think that could be said probably of all families and all people.”
Sunday’s event also featured a silent auction, cooking demonstrations and food crafts for kids. Admission was $15 for adults and $9 for children.
“People like to eat and they associate food with memories from their families,” organizer Sue Kimball said. “It’s a sense of connection that people have with their culture.”
The first Jewish congregation in Schenectady was founded in 1854. Two years later, it was named the Congregation Gates of Heaven, according to the temple’s Web site.
Today, the temple has after-school and Sunday programs for kids and teens where 200 students receive religious instruction and learn to speak Hebrew. Cutler said the temple currently serves 500 families.
“We come from all different parts of the world,” Cutler said. “Even though we’re a religion, we don’t get a better reflection of Americana than this.”