It has a singular mission: to leverage the beauty of Jewish food, according to Co-Executive Producer Jeffrey Yoskowitz.
The Great Big Jewish Food Fest began yesterday and runs through May 28 (or Shavuot). As clear as a black-and-white cookie, the significance is in the name. The GBJFF, for short, is meaningful, diverse, large and, yes, proudly and loudly Jewish.
Yoskowitz, who co-owns The Gefilteria, a company dedicated to enlivening and enriching the history of Ashkenazi food, has partnered with seemingly every name in the Jewish food world for this ten-day event that has captured today’s online, food-focused zeitgeist. (“Everyone’s making sourdough from starter and growing scallions in cups of water,” he noted.)
Yoskowitz, fellow Co-Executive Producer Lisa Colton and Program Producer and Gefilteria co-owner Liz Alpern, among many others, realized that their peers in the Jewish food world were moving their efforts online, but individually. They wanted to cook up a solution to manage and coordinate these initiatives to form something that was bigger than the sum of its parts.
Across the week-plus of possibilities, the Fest “celebrates the history, diversity and excitement for all things Jewish food,” Yoskowitz says. Options include cooking classes, virtual city tours, film screenings, panel discussions, happy hours, children’s events and community Shabbats, among a myriad of other sessions.
Yoskowitz lit up when expounding on the bridge from the Ashkenazi-focused work of The Gefilteria to the GBJFF. We can “now really bring people together and affirm that we are part of the same global Jewish food world, whether Brooklyn or Israeli, whether matzah balls or kubbeh,” he said. “We are reacting to this specific moment in time as people are really tuned into food right now, and the Festival is our vessel.”
He noted three goals, from the broad to the specific:
- To celebrate the richness, ritual and tradition of Jewish food;
- To engage leaders of the Jewish food world who were forced to pivot during the pandemic, together with the general public in the grounding quality of Jewish food culture; and
- To raise funds for COVID-19 relief efforts, from the restaurant industry to individuals in need.
Yoskowitz and the team knew that virtual events could be as intimate as in-person ones and started to connect with friends and organizations a mere four weeks ago. They received almost entirely positive reactions from everyone they reached out to, which Yoskowitz says shows “a real generosity of spirit.” On the public side, the donations page opened less than two weeks ago, but had raised more than $41,000 as of publication.
The festival is separated into several arenas. The Main Stage is where the GBJFF marquee events, the ones that producers have organized, will take place. This venue will hold sessions like The Great Shabbat Cook-Along with celeb chefs Gail Simmons, Michael Solomonov, Adeena Sussman and Einat Admony (May 22, 1:00pm Eastern) and Jewish Cooking in America Past and Present with Joan Nathan and Ruth Reichl (May 27, 8:30pm Eastern).
Community Partner events are those that others will produce themselves, ranging from famed baker Paula Shoyer; FestivALT (A Jewish arts collective in Poland); Amy Kritzer of What Jew Wanna Eat; and the Manhattan JCC. Each will present on the GBJFF “stage,” built on the back-end platform of OneTable, an organization dedicated to engaging people in their 20s and 30s to “Shabbat together,” another partnership that the organizers sought out to include everyone from grandparents to Gen Z. For that latter demographic, there are the Happy Hour events like Oy Vey, It’s Time to Get Cray (en español!). Jake Cohen, who runs a popular food Instagram account and has recently managed Instagram Live events with OneTable, will take participants on a ride to create their own Insta-ready cheese boards.
The diversity piece is critical for Alpern, who created Queer Soup Night and dedicates herself to social-justice causes, and Yoskowitz. “The festival can connect thousands of people across geographies and time zones that would otherwise be impossible,” he said.
Participants can kibbitz on chats while chefs cook and submit questions in real time. Happy hours are meant to connect and foster conversation.
The GBJFF has grown from the back of a (virtual) bar napkin idea to a platform that stands to “connect and inspire people to the depth of Jewish cuisine,” Yoskowitz says—and an ability to leverage that beauty of Jewish food, for good.