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NJ JCC Uses Journeys to Create Gourmet Event

Everybody likes to eat, right? Most people enjoy a good glass of wine, too. Building on those universal interests and using one of the units from the Mandel Center of Jewish Education, the programming staff at the Betty & Milton Katz JCC in Cherry Hill, New Jersey created a kosher Gourmet Wine and Dine event, which showcased top area chefs and featured a member of the renowned Philadelphia Orchestra.

The Katz JCC was one of a dozen JCCs throughout North America invited to pilot Journeys: Adult Jews Living and Learning, the adult-engagement program created by JCC Association’s MCJE. Thus far, the four Journeys program units have focused on Jews and Food, Jews and Humor, Israel through the Arts, and Jews and Relationships. The Katz JCC is the only JCC to have put extensive programming behind all four units.

A multi-sensory journey through French Jewish culture, the Gourmet Wine and Dine event included live music by Nitzan Haroz, principal trombonist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, with his rendition of French classics, as well as information on the contributions to society of French Jews.  The main attraction, however, were the kosher cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, and the gourmet three-course French dinner with dessert, specially created by celebrated local chefs Matt Levin of Adsum, Kevin Kramer from The Capital Grille, and Classic Cake maestro Robert Bennett.

This evening of kosher fine dining was the first of its kind in the Delaware Valley, and in a community with few kosher restaurants, offered a rare opportunity to partake in kosher cuisine other than pizza and Chinese food.  Over 220 people came to sample the delicacies.  For those who enjoy eating at fine restaurants, the opportunity to taste signatures dishes was unique.  For those who keep the Jewish dietary laws, it was a treat not to be missed.  It was surprising to see the wide array of individuals who keep kosher and who were elated to have an opportunity to enjoy kosher food at a level of quality that is not easily accessible outside of the New York area.

The participating chefs collaborated to create a French menu that accommodated kosher guidelines, within a reasonable budget.  The chefs were enticed to participate for the opportunity to broaden their culinary skills and break out of their comfort zones by working within kosher restrictions. “I enjoyed working with the rabbi in the kitchen and learning more about the laws of kosher cooking,” said Chef Kevin Kramer. “It was a wonderful experience and I enjoyed the challenge of learning something new.”  

Preparing for the program became an educational opportunity for the community as well.  To maintain the elegant level that the committee wanted, the Katz JCC decided to invest in tableware for this long-term program. Following the guidelines of the local Vaad, which supervises the kitchen at the JCC, all new dishes, glasses, pots and pans, and utensils needed to be submerged in the mikvah.  Numerous volunteers from the local Orthodox day school, synagogue, and mikvah, took over 800 dishes, 600 glasses, and 1800 pieces of flatware to the mikvah.  This often overlooked step in kashruth observance became a conversation starter among the professional staff and community, and served as a stepping stone toward great Jewish dialogue.

Challenged with producing programming that engages young adults, baby boomers, and active seniors, the adult department created a high-ticket event with an inclusive approach to Jewish education and lifestyle.  The professional staff used this opportunity to promote the various cultural events throughout the year as well as to stress the importance of senior programming. Proceeds from Gourmet Wine and Dine will help fund the daily senior meal program, as well as social and recreational programming and transportation for seniors.  From that perspective, Gourmet Wine and Dine also highlighted the Jewish value of caring for those in need.

Cultural Director Sabrina Spector said the evening was better than she ever imagined, and that folks were already asking for the next one. “It was amazing to see people of all ages come together to enjoy a social evening around kosher cuisine.  For those who keep the Jewish dietary laws, the amount of gratitude [expressed] to have such an opportunity was overwhelming,” said Spector. “On a personal level, it was gratifying to expose the community to the idea that gourmet kosher cooking can be achieved.”      

David Ackerman, director of the Mandel Center for Jewish Education, said, “The staff of the Katz JCC did just what we hope JCC professionals will do with the Journeys units—they took information that resonated with their community and brought their own creativity into play. All the Journeys units are designed to be adapted to different community interests and to different facilities. This is a great example of what can be done with the program.”

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