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New group for the not-yet-married

‘West of the Hudson’ to encourage mingling, personal development

At a recent community meeting at the Jewish Center of Teaneck, Josh Lipowsky, communications specialist at the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and a former associate editor of this newspaper, stood up and complained about the lack of singles activities in the township.

“They were discussing Upper West Side synagogues reinventing themselves to reach out to a singles population,” Lipowsky recalled. “I stood up and said, ‘There’s a singles community here in Teaneck and there is nothing for us. We all go to different synagogues because no one synagogue is making a home for us.’”

Rabbi Lawrence Zierler, religious leader of the Jewish Center, took Lipowsky’s point.

“I thought, ‘You’re absolutely right,’” Zierler recalled in a recent interview with The Jewish Standard. “It is the responsibility of every synagogue to remember the not-yet-married, not only the families. You can get so caught up in lifecycle events that you forget” about the younger population, he said.

Who: West of the Hudson, a young Jewish professionals’ group based in Teaneck

What: Screening of Israeli sitcom episodes

When: Monday, June 20, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Jewish Center of Teaneck

Information: West of the Hudson on Facebook or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

To woo the not-yet-marrieds and address their concerns, Zierler has overseen the creation of a new social group in Teaneck.

Called “West of the Hudson,” the group — spearheaded by Lipowsky, 29, and Chaya Greenspan, 31, a pediatric occupational therapist — seeks to provide opportunities for young Jewish professionals to meet, mingle, and share experiences.

Its first event, a bonfire for L’ag B’omer, took place May 21 in the parking lot of the Jewish Center of Teaneck. About 40 young professionals turned out to celebrate the holiday by roasting kosher hotdogs and marshmallows supplied by Smokey Joe’s kosher barbecue restaurant on Cedar Lane.

“It was fun — there was socializing, there were hot dogs and marshmallows and pineapple at a little table by the fire, and another table with more food, sodas, and beer,” said Debra Segal, 22, a Teaneck resident who works in real estate in Manhattan. “I commend Josh for getting this together.”

For Zierler, the project is a way to serve the young, not-yet-married in the area and also to revitalize the Jewish Center, which will host the group.

“We are recreating ourselves,” he said. “A healthy synagogue has to express itself across the continuum of life, to look at the needs of not just … families with lifecycle events or people who are figuring out their lives beyond their working years, but to be a place the not-yet-married can develop those relationships.”

It’s also a great way to promote Teaneck, Zierler believes, which will in turn support the Jewish Center.

“We’d love to see people find their bashert [through the group], settle in Teaneck, and [retain] an affinity for the … Jewish Center because this is where it happened…. This is a community where you can hopefully come, meet your partner, and stay.”

That’s a perspective Segal says she can relate to.

“It’s really expensive to live in the city, and I have friends in Teaneck,” she said. “If there were more activities like this for people to meet and Teaneck were more of a scene like the Upper West Side … I would be more likely to stay here.”

While the group is geared toward young professionals in this area (hence its name), others are welcome and encouraged to come, according to Lipowsky.

“We are west of the Hudson River, but people from across the river are welcome also,” he said. “That we got 40-some people from all over Bergen County and even from New York at our first event shows there is a desire for this type of programming outside of the Upper West Side.”

Providing young people with opportunities to network is a Jewish religious imperative, Zierler believes.

“Social networking was spoken of by the rabbis — when you are rooted in a network, a community, and everyone knows someone, it’s social capital,” he said. “A friend has a friend who has a friend. Membership has its benefits when you exist in association.”

The group has a Facebook page, West of the Hudson, that boasts nearly 250 members and lists upcoming events.

For its next event, on Monday at the Jewish Center, members will screen “Srugim,” an Israeli sitcom about modern Orthodox singles in Jerusalem.

The sitcom’s storylines reflect the fact that “there are lots of similarities between Israelis and American singles,” according to Greenspan. She added that, while “all dietary and Shabbat rules are observed,” the group welcomes Jewish singles in their 20s and 30s regardless of affiliation. Some of the group’s members were drawn from a listserv Greenspan and a friend maintained to organize activities like Shabbat meals and Superbowl parties. Activities such as candle-making and beer-brewing are being discussed as possibilities for future events, she said.

Just don’t call it a singles group.

“We are not trying to create another singles scene or organization,” Greenspan. “We are not trying to marry anyone off, either. We are trying to support people’s personal development, whether they are married, divorced, or single. Friendships are just as important as romantic connection.”

 
 

Jewish Standard sweeps the field

Newspaper racks up journalism awards

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From left, Warren Boroson, Rebecca Boroson, Josh Lipowsky, and Miryam Wahrman display their NJSPJ awards. photo by Israel Wahrman Winners Lois Goldrich, inset left, and Bram Boroson, inset right, were not at Sunday’s ceremony.

The Jewish Standard received seven awards, including four for first place, at the annual awards luncheon Sunday at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark of the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.

In the weekly newspaper division, a team of three — Rebecca Boroson, Lois Goldrich, and Josh Lipowsky — placed first in state for regional news for a mulitpart cover story “Sacred Space?” about the planned mosque near Ground Zero. (Boroson is the newspaper’s editor. Goldrich and Lipowsky, both former associate editors, continue to free-lance for the paper.)

The judges wrote, “This section explores one of the most sensitive topics of public discussion and news coverage of recent years through the thoughts and opinion of various people, including rabbis and other prominent Jews, Muslim leaders, and politicians. It lets those featured speak for themselves on the subject of whether a planned Muslim building should be erected near the 9/11 site, and the result is much food for thought on both sides of the issue. A real service to the readers.”

Lipowsky won second place in that category for “DeVries case spurs state to target driving while distracted.” He also won first place for a feature, “Hello, old friend: Death march survivors reunite after 65 years.” The judges comment was that the article “flowed seamlessly between the experiences of the men during the Holocaust, and today.”

Miryam Wahrman, the newspaper’s science correspondent, placed first in the health, science, and technology category for “Got ____? Aphasia: At a loss for words.” The judges called it an “interesting and informative article on a health problem that most of the general public never even heard of. Wahrman does a good job of explaining what it is, how it affect individuals, and the treatment available at a local center.”

Another first was won by Bram Boroson, in both the daily and weekly categories, for his review, “A Novelist’s Search for (Divine) Life in the Universe,” of a book by Herman Wouk called “The Language God Talks.” The judges called it a “thoughtful and insightful review that gives the reader a number of ideas to ponder.” Boroson, an assistant physics professor at Clayton State University in Morrow, Ga., is performing research at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. He is the son of Rebecca Boroson and her husband, Warren, a contributing editor at the Standard.

Warren Boroson took second place in the enterprise/series/investigative category for his three-part series on ant-Semitism, “The disease that won’t go away.”

A columnist as well for NewJerseyNewsroom.com, Boroson took two other second-place awards, one in the online essay category for “What it’s really like to be retired” and one in the online public service category for “Frank financial advice for young people.”

Rebecca Boroson placed second for her editorial “Boorish blogging and a merited medal.”

Sara Lee Kessler of Englewood and her NJN Public Television team took a first place award in the Best Media Affiliated Website category for NJN’s “Decoding Autism” website. The judges called it “an attractive and easy-to-navigate site addressing a serious topic. The combination of information (including Fast Facts list) videos, and resources helps demystify the subject of autism for the average person.”

The “Decoding Autism” documentary, which is now airing on PBS television stations across the nation, debuted on NJN on Sept. 27, 2010. The Standard’s Abigail Klein Leichman previewed it in this newspaper on Sept. 24.

The Standard’s publisher, James Janoff, said he was delighted at the paper’s strong showing. “It demonstrates,” he said, “the Standard’s commitment to editorial excellence and to covering the community.”

 
 

The changing of the guard

 

Drawing on their Judaism

“What is still Jewish about comic books?”

Josh LipowskyCover Story
Published: 11 November 2011
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The Thing, created 1961 by Jewish comics greats Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, has in recent years been given a Jewish identity.

In a pivotal scene in the 1981 movie “Superman II,” a child is horsing around on the railing overlooking Niagara Falls when he slips into the rushing waters. Before he can plunge into what would surely be a watery grave, however, Superman flies in for a last-minute catch. In the roar of approval from the crowd, careful listeners can hear one woman in a thick New York accent utter, “Of course, he’s Jewish.”

Perhaps that woman knew that Superman’s Kryptonian name was a very biblical sounding Kal-El, which (when written in Hebrew) means “Voice of God.” The modern comic-book industry has been built on the shoulders of Jewish artists, from Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to Stan Lee.

Anti-Semitism kept Jews out of many mainstream fields in the 1920s and 1930s, said Simcha Weinstein, author of “Up, Up and Oy Vey,” about the Jewish roots and themes of the early comic book industry. Young, aspiring, Jewish artists who found themselves barred from advertising and other artistic industries found their homes in comics, which were still in their infancy and thus had no barriers for Jewish artists.

The Jewish origins of Superman and other comic superheroes, however, have been covered in numerous books and articles, including in this newspaper. As fascinating as it is to ponder the correlation between the Incredible Hulk and the Golem of Prague, this is not a history article. It is an article about the present. We know the Jewish roots of comic books; the question we ask is: What is still Jewish about comics?

Now, Weinstein said, Jews have become more American and Americans have become more Jewish in their outlook, which has led to an influx of Jewish culture in the media.

“There’s no greater example than [Larry David’s HBO series] ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ which seems to be getting more Jewish every episode,” Weinstein said. “What I’m shocked about is that the gentiles are getting the jokes, which are so Jewish and so niche.”

Batman’s Chanukah story

In comics, this has manifested itself in a number of themes, storylines, and characters that can be seen as overtly Jewish, or based on Jewish ideas.

This December, in an issue of “Batman: The Brave and the Bold,” Batman will team up with Ragman, an identifiably Jewish character who gains his powers from a mystical suit of rags, in a Chanukah issue written by Teaneck’s Sholly Fisch. In the issue, Ragman begins to lose faith in himself, but ultimately regains his confidence thanks to Batman, with the help of a local rabbi and the story of Chanukah.

Fisch, a regular writer on “Batman: The Brave and the Bold,” has been writing comics for 27 years as his “hobby” while working in children’s television. He bought his first comic book when he was 5 years old back in the 1960s, when Bat-mania was sweeping the country thanks to Adam West’s campy portrayal of the Caped Crusader. He has been writing comics for 27 years for both Marvel and DC on titles such as “Superfriends,” “Scooby Doo,” “Ren & Stimpy,” “Looney Tunes,” and, of course, “Batman: The Brave and the Bold,” based on the Cartoon Network series of the same name. When Fisch decided he wanted to tell a Chanukah story, he went looking through DC’s small gallery of identifiably Jewish characters, and Ragman seemed the ideal choice for a team-up.

“There are not as many [Jewish superheroes] as there are non-Jewish but … it’s a far cry from when I was growing up and basically every superhero was white and Christian and fit that mold in terms of ethnicity,” Fisch said. “It was really over the course of the ’70s and ’80s there started to be more diversity in comics. Part of that were characters identified as Jewish, which is always a nice thing.”

Drawing on experiences

Diversity has become a major value of society today, Fisch said, and “as long as that’s a value being put forth … you’re going to see not only continuing but growing diversity as you have a broader range of people making comics and a broader range of people reading them. I think Jewish comics are certainly going to be a part of that.”

Many of the overtly Jewish themes and characters found in comics today can be traced to Jewish writers drawing on their own experiences and culture, Fisch said, even if the writer is not intentionally writing a Jewish story. “You’re always going to have themes that you can think of as Jewish but may or may not be intended that way,” he said. “Personally, I can say I’ve written a few stories that were specifically Jewish, like the Chanukah story. I’ve written other stories that were more subtly Jewish. A few years ago I wrote a story about Dr. Strange for Marvel grounded in a concept from Pirkei Avot. Any number of stories I’ve written that have that same thread of Jewish culture underlying at their roots because that’s my values. There will be certain things that are potentially put forward that way and things that are just the values and upbringing.”

Danny Fingeroth has been living and breathing comic books since the 1970s and has worked on major titles such as Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Iron Man. In 2007, he penned “Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics, and the Creation of the Superhero,” exploring the Jewish origins of the superhero genre. Fingeroth credits the likes of Woody Allen and Philip Roth for pushing Jewish sentiments in pop culture, and comic books, he said, simply followed suit.

“There came a point in post-war America where it was somehow okay or even cool to be Jewish,” he said during an interview with The Jewish Standard. “Once it was seen that the culture would tolerate and indeed celebrate that kind of work there was a natural evolution that Jewish characters and Jewish themes would appear in the comics.”

Mutant as metaphor

While the original comic creators of the Golden Age were more subtle in their Jewish themes, modern writers have touched on such subjects as the Shoah and Israel, while also using the idea of the mutant as a metaphor for outsiders and Jewishness.

“The themes are still there,” he said. “Comics in general are now more culturally diverse. You have Muslim characters and gay characters and Hindu characters. We just live in a more diverse world, which is reflected in the movies and television that we see and books that we read. Comics in general have been late to the party in those kinds of things; when they see it’s safe in the media, then they go ahead and do it.”

Superheroes are a projection of their creators’ and audiences’ fantasies, fears, and hopes, according to Fingeroth, and as such, characters’ Jewish identities have been interwoven in the stories. For example, in recent years the villainous Marvel character Magneto was revealed to be a Jewish Holocaust survivor. The Fantastic Four’s Ben Grimm, a/k/a The Thing, and the X-Men’s Kitty Pryde have also acknowledged their Jewish heritage.

As the audience reading comics becomes more diverse, more people look for reflections of themselves in comics, Fingeroth said, and superheroes have traditionally been written to be “everyman” characters. This has resulted in a widening diversity in comic book characters, both in writing and in interpretation. Even characters that are specifically portrayed as Jewish are symbols for misunderstood or oppressed people of all sorts.

“Americans, especially people of immigrant backgrounds of any kind, simultaneously want to be Clark Kent — that is they want to be this ultimate gentile and fit into this imagined storybook fairytale America — and on the other hand people do have pride in who they are and where they come from and where their parents come from,” Fingeroth said.

Comic Con culture

Last month, in addition to celebrating Sukkot, Jewish comic-book fans from around the area flocked to New York City for the annual New York Comic Con, the largest comic convention on the East Coast. Fans mixed with comic artists, celebrities, and comic book industry leaders in a celebration of pop culture. In 2009, Weinstein and Fingeroth appeared on a panel with comic-book legend Jerry Robinson, creator of the Joker and co-creator of Robin, to discuss the broad topic of Jews and comics. Contemporary comic greats such as Joe Simon and the late Harvey Pekar were honored during panels at this year’s Comic Con, while such legends as Stan Lee announced new projects and thousands of fans of all ages came dressed in colorful costumes.

Teaneck comic writer and artist Neil Kleid took a few minutes away from signing copies of his newest book, “Fraggle Rock,” to talk about his journey through comics, and how he has mixed Judaism into his art.

His first graphic novel, “Brownsville,” told the story of Murder Inc., the Depression-era Jewish mob, and focuses on Jewish life in the 1930s. During a time when Kleid was going through his own self-described religious crisis, he wrote “The Big Kahn,” the story of a rabbi who has been keeping a secret from his community for 40 years that finally comes out at his funeral: He was not really Jewish. The story follows the fallout in the community and the impact the revelation had on his family.

Too much real life?

In one scene after the rabbi’s secret is revealed, the widowed rebbetzin is shopping at a local grocery and runs into people from the community. She walks away, but when she doubles back she finds that the people are looking at the food she had picked up to see whether she is still keeping kosher.

“Because I’m living in the Jewish community, I can be really honest about who we are and what we are,” Kleid said. “People say to me that would never happen. That would happen, actually. Unfortunately we’re a very nosy people, which is good and bad. We’re very involved with our people and our community, but some people thought it was a little too unrealistic.”

When Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were creating their tale of a strange visitor from another planet, America was still in the Great Depression and Jews were living in Lower East Side tenement apartments facing extreme challenges blending in to the great melting pot, and even more so in places such as Cleveland, where Siegel and Shuster hailed from.

“There was a need for this guy you could look up to, this guy who’s us that I can escape into,” Kleid said. “You can say that for almost any superhero created in the Golden Age or even into the Silver Age. It was an escape.”

Now, however, he said, it seems like there is an overwhelming need on the part of writers to educate their readers about their own cultures. In contrast to the everyman character that appeals to the broadest audience, Kleid sees a growing number of diverse stories from minority cultures that are capturing the imaginations of the majority. For example, there is “Persepolis,” a French autobiographical comic about author Marjane Satrapi’s childhood in Iran during and after the Islamic Revolution.

Reasons for reading

“People want stories that are going to bring them into a world they’re not familiar with,” he said. “There are two kinds of comics, in my opinion: There are the escape comics, which are superheroes, zombies, vampires, where you just want to forget your troubles and enjoy some cool entertainment, maybe learn something; and then there are stories that teach you about something you don’t know.”

Graphic novels and comics can be used as a medium to explain writers’ culture and history, Kleid said. “Not as a sense we want to hide from it, or we want to hide ourselves in something else, but we really want to own that and use it to tell great stories.”

While DC Comics has drawn the bulk of recent attention for the relaunch of its major titles, Marvel has also been tinkering with some of its heroes. Its “Ultimate Spider-Man” title takes place in an alternate reality and features not white and nerdy Peter Parker as the webslinger, but half-African American, half-Hispanic Miles Morales. The story, Kleid said, goes back to the core of Spider-Man and being an outsider who does not belong — a very Jewish theme, despite the non-Jewish character.

“That is inherently who we are as a Jewish people — we are the outsiders,” he said. “We’re not always accepted or seen as the majority culture. You can read that into almost any kids’ superhero you want.”

 
 

Pow! Zap! Prize!

A hard-hitting editorial and a smashing superhero feature story published in the Jewish Standard won awards at the recent annual meeting of the American Jewish Press Association.

Taking first place award for “excellence in editorial writing” in the annual Simon Rockower Awards for Excellence in Jewish Journalism was an editorial “A Deafening Silence.” (A Deafening Silence that shames us all)

The editorial, which appeared in this paper’s October 14, 2011 issue, denounced the silence of American Jews and Israeli officials in the face of violence by ultra-Orthodox Jews against Jewish schoolchildren in the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh.

It was written by Interim Editor Shammai Engelmayer and Associate Editor Larry Yudelson.

“It is not acceptable that little girls are being screamed at by grown men,” they wrote.

The editorial appeared two months before a story about the violence broadcast on Israeli television led to international news coverage.

Josh Lipowksy’s cover story, “What is Still Jewish about Comic Books?” (Drawing on their Judaism) won a second place prize for excellence in arts and criticism.

“A good deal has been written about this topic,” wrote the awards committee, “but few have delved into the modern echoes of the comics’ Jewish background and the change in that influence over time,” the awards committee wrote.

The Jewish Standard’s publisher, Jamie Janoff, said that the awards made him feel both pleased and proud.

“It’s good to see the hard work of our editorial staff and our contributors recognized by an award committee,” he said. “But what we strive for even more, every single week, is recognition from our readers.”

 
 

Fish, fowl, and good red meat

Our intrepid reporter visits the Kosherfest Expo in the Meadowlands

Josh LipowskyLocal
Published: 23 November 2012
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Kosherfest’s show floor

Shalom Ber Cadaner spent the past year trying to get carp to taste like salami.

The result was a line of pareve “meats” all made out of carp, which he unveiled for the first time last week during the annual Kosherfest Expo at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, where thousands of food retailers, restaurateurs, and food journalists were looking to keep abreast of the latest trends in kosher food.

Crystal Springs, which is distributing Cadaner’s faux meats, was one of the more than 600 companies displaying its latest kosher options at the show. Kosherfest drew big names like Manischewitz and Aaron’s, as well as smaller companies looking for distributors and to introduce their products.

“I’m just amazed honestly,” Cadaner said. “Everybody’s very excited about it. I look at people’s faces and they’re just shocked” that it’s fish.

Kosher food is a $12 billion a year industry, according to expo founder Menachem Lubinsky, CEO of Lubicom Marketing. The key words in the kosher industry right now, he said, are market share.

A customer might decide to go to one store instead of another because the produce is fresher, the coleslaw at the deli counter looks better, or the store’s layout is more appealing. Store owners have to keep all of these elements in mind, Lubinsky said, and make their products and stores stand out.

To gain market share, the industry needs to focus on product enhancement, and relationships must be built between the brand, the store, and the customer.

“You need to think beyond kosher, you need to think about the store,” he said. “Know that the kosher consumer is sometimes evaluating the store based on things that have nothing to do with kosher.”

While some companies have started putting recipes on their packaging, not enough manufacturers are teaching consumers how to use their products, according to Lubinsky. “Teaching consumers how to use the product can, in many cases, double the sales of a product, because if you do teach the consumer how to use it, they will use it; they experiment with it; they will try it.”

The kosher market can be a gateway to larger vendors as well, said Elie Rosenfeld, CEO of Joseph Jacobs Advertising in New York, which handles big brands Manischewitz and Empire. General market companies or specialty brands that are kosher and want to break into larger markets are turning first to specialty stores as steppingstones to build their brands. And in the big chain stores these companies will play up the kosher connection as a way to break into crowded markets.

“If you’re a chip company you can’t go up against Frito-Lay,” he said. “But if you’re a specialty kosher chip company, you can say, ‘I’ll go in the kosher aisle. It’s a foot in the door.’”

Getting onto the shelf is only part of the battle. Once there, products have to set themselves apart from the competition.

“Packaging and shelf-presence is in a sense the most important thing beyond quality and taste for the product because the biggest hurdle any brand is going to have is getting the product into the supermarket,” Rosenfeld said. “You’re competing against very similar and very comparable products in the same category. There are going to be 12 cookie people, 12 rugelach people. Having a product that appeals to the buyer, to have something different, allows the retailer to look more high tech, more with it.”

Companies are looking to “green” their packaging, he said. Packaging is becoming more contemporary by becoming minimalistic as consumers increasingly look for biodegradable or recyclable packages.

With so much competition around, recyclable packaging might be what makes the difference between brand A and brand B getting on the store shelf, he said. More companies are turning to resealable packaging, and for Empire, which began using resealable tubs for its sliced turkey a few years ago, this has been a hit with customers, he said.

“People are loving those tubs,” he said, noting people reuse them for everything from food storage to arts and crafts.

Almost 20 Israeli companies attended this year’s show, trying to find North American distributors, or, in the case of established companies like Osem, unveiling new products.

As in previous years, Osem had a large display highlighting its products, including its Pearl Couscous with Rice, Roasted Garlic & Sun-Dried Tomatoes, which won the Best in Show award in the new pasta or rice category. The company also revealed new mixes for Passover rolls and pancakes, and an all-natural macaroni and cheese mix. The company is trying to answer the growing demands of health-conscious consumers, said Kobi Afek, Osem’s head of marketing.

“Today the consumer looks for short time of preparation, ease of preparation, no more than 10 to 15 minutes at most,” he said. “There is an increasing demand for all-natural and gluten-free items; and high kosher supervision. So when they get it from Osem, they get all three.”

Pointing to the yellow color scheme on the mix packages, Afek said that the company is trying to make it easier for consumers to recognize Osem brands.

“It’s a color that’s been associated with kitchens. It’s a warm color. [And] it’s part of our corporate brand colors.”

Skinny Kosher Creations, a Woodstock, N.Y. company that unveiled a line of kosher vegetarian weight-loss foods at the show, is trying something a little different with its packaging. There’s no picture of the product on the box. The company plans to use barcodes on the packaging that customers can scan with their smartphones, which will direct them to the company’s website.

“When you walk into a supermarket, we’re always inspired by the marketing,” Brenda Laredo, one of the company’s founders, said. “I’m looking at pictures of food everywhere and I’m not sure where to direct myself. We want to set ourselves apart from everybody else. The skinny speaks for itself.”

Most manufacturers realize that new products drive sales, Lubinsky said, but many still don’t factor in the consumers, and that is where variables like packaging come into play. Kosher food is no longer just a basic staple, it’s an experience and a social phenomenon, he added, noting that Jewish bookstores sell more kosher cookbooks than religious books today.

“It’s become sort of a culture” of its own, he said.

 
 

Eight crazy latkes

Josh LipowskyLocal
Published: 21 December 2012
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Barton Lee (left) and Yitzi Tabler (right) display their medals, flanking host Stuart Kahan. Josh Lipowsky

TEANECK – A little rain couldn’t keep these gastronomic gladiators from festively feasting during Ma’adan’s annual Chanukah caloric challenge.

A light drizzle forced the eighth annual latke-eating contest inside Ma’adan’s Cedar Lane store on Sunday, instead of its usual spot on the pedestrian plaza, but new and returning contestants still turned out for the annual test of epicurean fortitude.

Seventeen-year-old Yitzi Taber of Bergenfield claimed the title in the 13-17 age division, finishing off four latkes. There were no entries in the under-13 category this year.

“It feels great,” he said. “I just really wanted to win something. And I love latkes.”

In the adult category, it came down to a tie of eight latkes each between three-time champion Shalom Krischer of Teaneck and newcomer Barton Lee of Allendale. The pair headed to a “sudden-death” run-off to finish two latkes in the fastest time. When the crumbs finally settled, Lee was triumphant.

Lee credited his win to “a lot of willpower and determination,” he said. “And putting applesauce on the potato pancakes and pacing myself. [The applesauce] allowed the pancake to go down easier.”

This wasn’t Lee’s first foray into competitive eating. He had participated in hot dog eating contests while a student at Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y. This, however, was his first kosher eating contest, he said.

“I just wanted to try it on a whim,” said the 45-year-old information analyst, who said he learned about the contest from reading the Jewish Standard. “I just said I had to do what I had to do in order to try to accomplish this feat. I was monitoring my progress and the progress of my competitor.”

This year’s contest was a real “nail bitter,” said Stuart Kahan, co-owner of Ma’adan and the contest’s organizer. Last year’s winner, a first-time entrant and semi-professional eater, did not show, but contestants set new records for latkes devoured. At the end of the day, Lee and Krischer each had finished 10 of the quarter-pound latkes, or 5.5 pounds each.

(This reporter, continuing a losing streak of gastronomic proportions, finished only five latkes, a total of 1.25 pounds. It should be noted, however, that this feat was accomplished one-handed, while snapping pictures with the other hand.)

As in past years, Kahan offered prizes to the crowd in exchange for correct answers to Chanukah trivia questions, which he said adds an educational dimension to the contest.

“We want it to have meaning,” he said. “I don’t want it to be just a food fest.”

With the recent closings of Louie’s Charcoal Pit and Cedar Lane Cinemas, long-time stalwarts of the Cedar Lane business district, Kahan said he hopes that events like the latke contest will bring some positive attention to the area and help spark more foot traffic.

“Anything that shines a light on this business district helps,” he said. “Every event, every good word. I’m hoping different organizations will come through and find a solution to the theater.”

Keeping in mind that many people still are suffering from the effects of Hurricane Sandy, Kahan said that leftovers from the contest were to be picked up charities that would deliver them to those in need.

“This is what community’s about — doing things like this, helping out victims of Sandy,” he said. “When things like this happen, life still goes on, but you have to remember and deal with [tragedy].”

Besides the medals and gift certificates the winners receive, the contest has other rewards, he added. “You see the smiles, not just on the kids’ faces but on the adults’ faces. It’s a good Chanukah event.”

 
 
 
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