York JCC's food festival adds beer to the menu


If you see Rachel Singer at the Jewish Food Festival on Sunday, be sure to let her know she's doing a good job.

"My predecessor, Linda Seligson, really kind of transformed the festival and created what it is today," says Singer, who's organizing the long-running festival for the first time as the Jewish program coordinator for the York Jewish Community Center. "I feel so lucky to have been mentored by her in the year leading up to her retirement."

Singer isn't a complete newcomer to the annual food festival. Two years ago, after her family moved to York County from Baltimore, she attended her first as one of the hundreds of faces in the crowd.

"The food festival really showcases how the greater York community embraces the Jewish community here," she says. "Between the deli food and the Mummers ... it was just a real big fun, almost spectacle of an event."

Naturally, once wasn't enough — and having experienced the festival from an attendee's point of view, she opted for a deeper experience the second time.

"Last year, my husband and I worked the dessert table with a group of volunteers," she says. "It was wonderful to see people coming through the line and have them asking us a lot of questions about the pastries."

Food: The pastries are part of the festival's full slate of kosher Jewish deli treats, from the crunchy pickles to the thick, meaty sandwiches and the ever-popular black-and-white cookies.

For a full explanation of what keeping kosher means for a Jewish kitchen, don't be afraid to ask one of the volunteers manning the tables. Curiosity is welcome, whether the question is why pork and shellfish aren't served or why the butter has the word "pareve" on the label. Singer happily offers an answer to one of the most common questions.

"For our purposes at the food festival, keeping kosher is the separation of meat and milk products," she says. "We don't mix meat and milk. So if people are wondering why they can't get cheese on their sandwich, that's why."

The brisket, corned beef, pastrami, turkey, rye bread, potato knishes, kugel, matzo ball soup and other favorites will be back this year, but the festival is adding to the tradition with a new beverage option.

"The Brewery Products Co. in York is providing the festival with free kosher beer tasting," Singer says.

Those 21 and older should bring their driver's license along if they want a sample, because the brewery will be carding.

Bonus: A sip or two of beer might spur the shy folks in the crowd to jump in and learn the Mummers' strut this year. The Avalon String Band will perform two sets, Singer says, and the audience is encouraged to try strutting along.

Patience: The JCC is undergoing construction for an expansion to its early education classrooms, physical fitness areas and more, so festival attendees should take care to pay attention to the signs directing them to parking and a new route for the food line as it winds through the building.

"Hopefully, people can be patient with us and patient with leading them through the lines ... but it's going to be very similar (to) past years," Singer said. "The staff and volunteers that we have have really been phenomenal through the building process."

The positive attitude in the community is familiar to Singer, who recalls her first time at the festival as warm and welcoming. And from the other side of the table?

"It feels amazing," she says. "It's such an honor and a privilege to really have the responsibility given to me."

So if you have the warm, welcoming experience at the Jewish Food Festival on Sunday that Singer hopes you'll have, be sure to let her know the tradition lives on.

— Reach Mel Barber at mbarber@yorkdispatch.com.

Attending the festival

The York Jewish Food Festival runs from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday at the York Jewish Community Center, 2000 Hollywood Drive, York Township.

The festival showcases traditional kosher Jewish deli foods, including sandwiches, sides and desserts. Food purchases are cash-only, so be sure to stop at the ATM first.

A variety of vendors will have wares on display, and the Avalon String Band Mummers will perform.

Admission is free. All faiths are welcome.

For more information, call 843-0918 or visit www.yorkjcc.org.