Stuart Gordon seems to have found the common denominator to bringing the disparate communities separated by Judaism’s denominational divides together: barbecued meats.
“I believe strongly that all the different sects of Judaism should try to come closer together and by enjoying a nice day outside, eating brisket and drinking craft bourbon, we can have a stronger community,” Gordon said.
His thinking proved correct. From noon to 5 p.m. on Aug. 26, about 3,300 people converged on the parking lot of Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El for the second annual Hava NaGrilla Kosher BBQ Charity Festival and Competition. Tickets were sold at $10/person and $20/per family; proceeds went to the Jewish Relief Agency.
Last year’s event attracted approximately 4,500 people.
“To be able to pull this many Jewish people from so many different branches of our religion is truly a unique experience,” event co-chairman Howard Elgart said. “We were proud that we were able to do that. And we stood by that extra effort and extra communication needed to get all the branches of Jews there.”
Indeed, the day seemed to have something for everyone. Six13, a Jewish a cappella group, provided a musical backdrop for a family-friendly afternoon, as adults and children, many of whom had their faces painted, chomped on barbecue. Nana’s Kitchen offered a falafel platter for those not interested in the myriad meat options.
Jake’s Kosher Smoked Meats seemed to be a popular choice, with the line stretching several feet long throughout the day. All food served was prepared under Keystone K supervision.
“I came out here hoping there would be a lot of ribs and brisket and stuff. I had the sliced brisket, and it was really good,” said Becca Weber, 27, who doesn’t keep kosher. “I just love barbecue anywhere I can get it.”
For Wayne and Irene Levine of Springfield, N.J., the event was an opportunity to experience barbecue for the first time in decades. Growing up, they frequented kosher restaurant Schmulka Bernstein’s in Brooklyn, N.Y. They were critical of Hava NaGrilla’s fare, though.
“The only thing that I liked is that guy, the Kosher Kehuna. He put beer in soy sauce and smoked his stuff on pecan wood. That was actually good,” Irene said.
Others were far more impressed.
Maggie Gilston, whose son worked the event as a volunteer, said her hourlong commute from King of Prussia was more than worth it. She scarfed down a brisket sandwich.
“I wanted to please [my son] to be here. But also I wanted to be here and see how the whole thing was doing,” Gilston said. “I was anxious to get here, and now that I’m here I’m happy to be among my family, my Jewish family.”
As denizens perused the various vendors, the 20 barbecue teams packed up their respective stations. They had started cooking at around 10 p.m. the previous evening, and by 2 p.m. the next day, they were exhausted but festive. As grills were dismantled and leftovers were stored in containers, cold beverages were toasted.
Bob Krauss, the namesake behind the BBQ Bob team, was born in the South and has long loved barbecue. He now lives in Bryn Mawr, and for the occasion his daughter flew in from Charleston, S.C. About 30 of his friends and family stopped by after the judges were fed, and the group hung out under the trees atop the hill in back of Krauss’ station eating leftovers.
“To me, it’s a great family event. That’s what it’s all about,” Krauss said.
The competition was split into four categories: beef ribs, turkey, chicken thighs and smoked brisket. There were winners for each categorization, and “Nice Racks” was anointed grand champion.
“My favorite moments [from the event] are when Stuart is up on stage, handing out those trophies to those teams from all around the country who have worked so hard to cook their meats, who have driven so many miles to get here from all parts of the country, with all their supplies, and who’ve put days of effort into producing all the meats,” Elgart said. “And to see the happiness of all those winners.”