Deli That Makes a Difference

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Allie Aronsky and Olivia Friewald of the Agnes Irwin’s Jewish Student Union raised money to purchase a Kosher Torah for Women of the Wall.

Marching to the Beat of Tikkun Olam at KleinLife

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Recipients of KleinLife’s March for Meals program will find something extra in their bag courtesy of RSVP Philadelphia volunteers who have baked hamantashen in celebration of Purim.

Newsmakers, the Week of March 24, 2016

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JEVS Human Services has appointed Dustin Seidman to its board of directors, and Bucks County attorney Robert J. Salzer will receive an LLM degree in taxation from Boston University’s School of Law.

Harry S. Gross, 92

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Harry S. Gross, longtime financial columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News and radio talk show host, to name just a few of his many accomplishments, died on March 13 from heart failure at 92.

Connecting Families Jewishly Through Festivity and Fun

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“The Jewish Federation supports holiday programming for young children and their families as a way of creating vibrant and celebratory Jewish life, and as a basis for further inspiring and engaging children over time.”

Evening Celebrates ‘Women Who Rock’

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On March 17, more than 100 women enjoyed the unique sounds of Bulletproof Stockings, a self-proclaimed “all-girl Chasidic alternative rock band” based in Brooklyn, at this year’s Pomegranate Event, hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Women’s Philanthropy at Green Valley Country Club.

Keeping the Fires Burning

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Aside from two pragmatic implications, the Torah’s lessons have an eternal relevance on the spiritual and psychological dimensions of our being.

Exploring Israel, One Bite at a Time

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Michael Solomonov

Some movies leave you craving more, but viewers at the Gershman Y will be hungry for more than just falafel and schnitzel after this one.

The Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival will show the documentary, In Search of Israeli Cuisine, on March 28 at the Gershman Y, which kicks off its CineMonday series.

The film follows famed local restaurateur Michael Solomonov — known for his restaurants Zahav, Federal Donuts, Percy Street Barbecue, Dizengoff, Abe Fisher and his 2015 cookbook Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking — as he eats his way through Israel.

Director Robert Sherman was recommended by a friend to make Solomonov the designated tour guide for his documentary, based on the chef’s deep Israeli roots.

Solomonov and Sherman will be speaking after the film screening, which will be moderated by Sierra Tishgart, the senior editor of New York magazine’s Grub Street.

In the film, the two travel across the country for about three weeks tasting foods varying from fine dining to street carts, of which Solomonov said he even discovered cuisines new to him.

“It shows a different side of Israelis,” he described of the film. “Unfortunately, you can’t really say ‘Israel’ without it being political. It’s really interesting to see that through food as well.”

Solomonov, who was born in Israel and spent much of his childhood growing up in Pittsburgh and Israel, goes back to the Jewish State often to visit family, vacation and to explore the cuisine.

“I’m there all the time. I know a lot about food and I know a lot about Israel. But most of the stuff that we visited and participated in were things that I had never either done, been a part of or heard of,” he said with a note of surprise still in his voice.

“It was interesting to go only for this. I mean, this is my life’s dream: to be able to be a part of that, to be able to show people Israel and to just go in depth in all these tiny cuisines that make Israeli cuisine awesome.”

For instance, they met with a man in the desert who grows fruits and vegetables by trapping rainwater and floodwater, a place so barren it can rain at most six times a year — or not at all.

The farmer has a very small yield, understandably, but, Solomonov said, “it was the most incredible fruit I’ve ever had, hands down.”

He described the fruit as extra-concentrated, particularly the sweetness of the guava and the grapes, which tasted like honey to him.

Additionally, Solomonov was surprised how all-consuming making a documentary was.

He had never been a part of one before, and “three weeks is sometimes five shoots a day. It was very busy,” especially trying to coordinate schedules with unhurried people from the Middle East.

“Being in the kitchen all day long or being in the restaurant all day long is something that I’m accustomed to doing, so 12-hour days are minimal, that’s what we do all the time,” he added, but the constant stopping and going of the videography and having to keep up with creative, useful commentary was harder than he expected.

But overall, it was a great experience to expand upon his knowledge of Israeli and other Middle Eastern cuisines.

Israeli cooking is the combination of many different cultures, Solomonov explained, mainly from the post-Diaspora era.

Food comes from the people, and these people immigrated from all over, starting with a big wave in the 1800s from Russia, who united with the people who had been living there forever like Israelis, Palestinians and Druze, he said. His own grandparents immigrated to Israel from Bulgaria in 1948.

“All those things are sort of in one place, and then you’ve got this sort of melting pot or this mosaic or this tapestry happening,” he said. “And it also happens to be in the birthplace of agriculture.”

The agriculture does make a difference, he added, because there are so many microclimates across the country — what you’d find in the Judean Hills south of Jerusalem is far different from the Galilee in the north, for instance.

It also differs from religion and tradition; Solomonov said Moroccan Jewish food is different than Moroccan food, and the same goes for Yemenite food and other cultures.

“Because, from a trade standpoint, Israel is basically an island,” he continued, “everything is within 100 miles. The cucumbers don’t go from California to New York on a train for a week and a half. They’re put on a truck and are in the market later that day. That is the sort of culture where all those things are working in tandem.”

Solomonov hopes the film will make people hungry for food — and for Israel.

He was also recently nominated for Outstanding Chef and an international cookbook award for Zahav, which he co-wrote with Steven Cook, from the James Beard Foundation. He won Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic in 2011.

“I think it’s really cool that we got nominated for the book,” he said. “My buddy, Alon Shaya, was nominated for Best New Restaurant for Shaya in New Orleans, which is another Israeli restaurant, so it’s just really neat that there’s Israeli food popping up in different categories. It’s amazing to be a part of it.

“My life’s mission is to celebrate Israeli food and Israeli people through food, so it’s cool to be able to do that.”

Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0737

Grill Marks Arrival of Spring

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In the spring, a (not so) young cook’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of grilling.

In the City of Angels, He Finds the Manna

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Jonathan Gold ordering from a L.A. taco truck in the documentary City of Gold. Courtesy of Goro Toshima. A Sundance Selects release.

Deep in an otherwise unremarkable Los Angeles neighborhood, standing in line at a remote, unexplored taco truck, greasy fingers vividly demonstrating a passion for eating, you might find Jonathan Gold.

Gold is a Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic — the first and only food critic to be awarded the honor — whose Los Angeles Times reviews have wowed the city since the 1990s.

He writes for other publications like LA Weekly and Gourmet and frequents radio talk shows, and he is the star of the upcoming documentary, City of Gold, directed by Laura Gabbert, which opens at the Ritz East on March 25.

He received so much acclaim for his work because his writing goes beyond the food — it details the lives and cultures booming and breathing within the mini malls and side streets of L.A.

The documentary provides a glimpse of Gold’s life — which, as you can imagine, calls for a large appetite.

The stout, ginger-and-gray-haired, freckled Gold, always suspenders-bedecked, drives all across L.A. in his Dodge pickup truck scouting for new venues.

He’s tasted and critiqued foods from all different cultures — Thai is his personal favorite — but Jewish food was also an important part of his upbringing.

“The delicatessen your family went to was almost more important than the shul that you went to,” Gold explained. “Every Sunday, there would be delis.”

“If your family went to Nate ’n Al’s,” he continued in the film, “you’re kind of fancy. If your family went to Label’s Table, you were probably pretty close to working-class. But if your family was going to Junior’s, you were doing all right.”

He even had a brief stint during college working at a kosher restaurant, Milky Way, which is owned by Leah Adler, the mother of Steven Spielberg.

“I’d never worked in a kitchen before, and I’d take three minutes to chop a carrot,” he admitted. He remembered looking at every single egg, too, looking for a spot of blood that would render it inedible. “It taught me that working on a line in a kitchen was not something for which I was temperamentally suited.”

But food was important nonetheless.

“As Jews, there’s something about Jewish food that touches something primal in us,” he added. “Even for those not religious, the smell of gefilte fish cooking or the smell of cholent in the oven, it stirs something in us. And when we come together and eat those foods, there’s this togetherness that is just wonderful and it’s enveloping.

“My wife is Mexican, and I know that’s the same thing for her side of the family, like the smell of the menudo on Christmas Eve, the particular fragrance of sweet bread when it’s cooking in the oven, the stink of tamales when you take the lid off the pot. That’s home, too.

“The beautiful thing about restaurants is it sort of lets us travel from one to the other. Hospitality brings out the best in all of us, I think.”

Gold, a cellist, originally wanted to pursue music. After graduating from UCLA, he started at LA Weekly as a proofreader.

Due to boredom, he created a challenge for himself: He was going to eat at every restaurant up and down Pico Boulevard, about a 15-mile stretch that reaches the Pacific Ocean.

And he did.

From there, he began to write and review, but his critiquing process, even today, has been an intricate one.

Sometimes undercover, he always eats at a restaurant at least three to five times — his record is 17 — before reviewing it, and, of course, tasting everything on the menu, which is why he often enjoys bringing friends to the meal.

“Sometimes when you go a restaurant that has one dish — and there are a lot of those — sometimes the third meal seems a little bit silly,” he laughed. But it is definitely a necessity for him.

He tries to cover the entire menu in those first few visits, usually accompanied by a friend because it’s nearly impossible for one person to consume an entire menu. The fourth visit is usually to check for consistency or to order something differently.

He also spends a great deal of time researching the food, culture, history or geography of the cuisine’s origins.

“I’ll try to know as much as I can about the menu,” he said. “I’ll try to think about the context in which it was cooked, what the chefs were doing before they did this, and being able to take what’s on the plate and put it in a context that makes sense within the landscape of Los Angeles.”

Although he only speaks English, he does understand a few foreign words on the menus.

“I can read menus in 14 or 15 different languages,” he said, with practice or help from technology like Google Translate, an app that transforms an image of words from one language to another.

Sometimes translating apps can be a little vague though, like when Google Translate interprets a type of dumpling as “flower cloud mountain,” he joked.

“As my wife always says about me, I know the names of 4,000 different dishes in Italian but I can’t ask ‘which way to the train station,’ ” he laughed.

Gold also cooks a lot at home for his wife, Laurie Ochoa, and his two children.

“I don’t think you have to be a chef or have gone to culinary school to be a restaurant critic,” he said, “but I think you do have to be curious about cooking. So much of it is what’s in the market and what the season is and what farmer is bringing the new chickens into town that have that extra depth of flavor.”

The film also shares the stories of the people Gold has impacted, something he was not fully aware of until watching it.

A rave review from Gold is sure to give a boost, and these small restaurateurs were nearing closures prior. But a solid review from Gold resuscitated their businesses — and they have been thriving ever since.

Gold enjoys knowing that he helped make a small business somewhat prosperous, but he credits it to their skills and passion.

“As a critic of anything, there’s a firewall between the critic and the people or the institutions they write about,” he said. “You just don’t know the effect you have on people’s lives. It’s like when you put something in the charity box at temple, it’s better not to know where it goes. The fact that it’s doing something is good.”

But writing about these restaurants isn’t an act of charity from Gold.

“They’re doing me the favor,” he said. “They’re giving me something to write about; they’re giving me something to be excited about; they’re giving the city of Los Angeles something to be excited about.”

Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0737