If you found a flyer on your Wynnewood front door, it was probably Mark Solomon inviting you to the ninth annual Sukkot BBQ.
“I go around with flyers and find the mezuzahs on the door in the neighborhood,” he said.
Rabbi Todd Zeff, a past director of Camp Ramah who has since made aliyah, came up with the idea for a holiday barbecue 11 years ago as a community-wide event.
“He said everybody sort of gets tired of the second day of chag,” Solomon recalled, “so he said, ‘Why don’t we do a barbecue?’”
Solomon and others jumped on the idea, and it’s since become an anticipated event.
Usually about 250 people trickle throughout the day, and about 300 are expected this year, though Solomon’s goal is 400.
Waves of people flock to the barbecue within its four-hour window — this year on Oct. 6 from 1 to 5 p.m. — some either coming after shul or groups of kids getting off the bus from area schools.
They often see around a dozen non-Jewish guests as well, and Solomon said they always “make sure to feed the mailman and the UPS guy who come by.”
“We get people from all across the Jewish community — unaffiliated to Orthodox. We try to accommodate everybody’s needs — vegetarian, gluten-free, whatever,” he said.
Even in inclement weather, he said it’s still a highlight for many during the holiday season.
The barbecue has taken a greater approach to using social media to promote the event, which always takes place on the second day of Sukkot.
In the past, they even took on some extra themes for the holiday, like “Yontif with the Pontiff” during the pope’s Philadelphia visit in 2015.
The barbecue blocks off a small section in Wynnewood, barricaded with permission by Lower Merion Township. It occupies about four houses on the block — Solomon’s included — between Knox and Hillside roads along Wayfield Road, with two large sukkahs in place.
Parking is available on neighboring streets, and attendees are encouraged to register in advance at sukkotbbq.com.
Neighbors — new and old — have even extended their front yard space for the day, increasing the barbecue’s capacity.
“We have plenty of room,” Solomon added.
He said they schedule the barbecue on Sukkot because it’s not as well known as other Jewish holidays.
“It’s really a special holiday. People think about the Days of Awe with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but the theme of Sukkot” is to experience joy, he explained. “I think this is one way we can help people experience joy.”
And what’s a more joyous event than a barbecue?
The barbecue will have plenty of kosher meats — this year includes about 70 pounds of ground beef, 50 pounds of chicken and 200 hot dogs all from Lakewood, N.J. — as well as hamburgers, salads, chips, desserts and drinks.
“Usually there’s not that much leftover, and thankfully we’ve never run out,” he laughed. “People will not go away hungry.”
The event is free, but attendees are encouraged to bring their own snacks or drinks if they like.
“We talked about whether we would ask people to contribute financially, and we just said no, this is our thing we want to do for the community,” he said. The group of almost a dozen, self-titled “BBQ Guys,” fund the whole event.
Barbecue has certainly consumed Jewish Wynnewood this year, considering the success of the first annual Hava NaGrilla Smoke BBQ Festival and kosher barbecue contest, which took place in August at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El. About 5,000 filtered throughout the day.
An avid barbecue enthusiast, Solomon participated in Hava NaGrilla as a kosher certified judge, which he became in a training class a few months prior.
He’ll even fly to Dallas later this month to judge another kosher competition.
Solomon posted flyers at Hava NaGrilla for the Sukkot BBQ, so some new attendees might be in this year’s mix.
“One of my favorite things is actually that [some] people on the RSVP list, I have no idea who they are. It’s a way for me personally to meet new Jews in the community — that are new to me,” said Solomon, who belongs to Congregation Beth Hamedrosh and Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El.
“I’m really looking forward to the joy I see on people’s faces. People really think it’s a big deal, and for people who don’t otherwise have a place to come, they can sit in the sukkah; if they have a question about a sukkah, we’ve got probably about a half a dozen rabbis here. It’s really sharing the holiday of Sukkot.”