Fill up at the York Jewish Food Festival

This year’s festival will be from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday at the York Jewish Community Center, 2000 Hollywood Drive in York Township.

Mel Barber
  • Sandwich options: brisket, pastrami, corned beef or turkey on rye.
  • Sides: kugel, knish, matzo ball soup.
  • Desserts: assorted pastries and cookies.
  • Food purchases are cash-only.

For head volunteer chef Vivian Lazar, the York Jewish Food Festival begins in early November.

That’s when the planning for the annual April event gets underway, and there’s a lot to do before the day arrives. This year’s festival will be from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday at the York Jewish Community Center, 2000 Hollywood Drive in York Township.

Although some of the food comes from traditional Jewish delis and bakers, a large part is made right at the center by the hands of skilled volunteers.

“Sometimes we fine-tune things recipe-wise if we’ve made it one year and we think we can make it better,” Lazar says. “Sometimes we use older recipes that our mothers and grandmothers gave us, and sometimes we change them up a little bit.”

The center’s kosher kitchen is where the culinary magic happens for 270 pounds of lean, first cut brisket.

“That’s cooking it for four hours, each one,” Lazar says. “We put 16 briskets in the oven at one time, and I think we did it this time five times.”

But the brisket is only the beginning. The volunteer crew, headed by Lazar, also makes noodle kugels, matzo ball soup and a host of desserts. She’s quick to praise her lieutenants, Debbie Sherman and Gisele Axelrod, for the smooth operation during two days of strudel-making last week.

“We work in an assembly line; we have it down to a science,” Lazar says. “Debbie’s our runner — she gets everything organized and replenished as we need it — and Gisele and I do the actual assembly."

This year’s JCC-made desserts include lemon cookies, kichel, mandel bread and strudel, among others. That’s for after patrons have filled up on their kosher deli sandwiches: brisket, pastrami, corned beef or turkey on rye. Of course, don’t forget the kugel and a knish on the side. Oh, and for the over-21 crowd, samples of kosher beer will be served. It’s best to come hungry.

Lazar says she tends to go for a pastrami sandwich and knishes. After five years of working the festival, she’s familiar with the taste of everything on the menu. The food made by the volunteer crew is sampled as it comes out of the oven so the chefs can tweak the temperature or the baking time as needed.

“The food is always the same because people love it,” she says. “They come every year to eat it, so we try not to make too big a change.”

The people, about 2,500 each year, she says, will have plenty of entertainment on their way to the food tables. The festival also features Mummers performing their famous strut and more than two dozen vendors showing off crafts, jewelry, home services and more.

The work the volunteer chefs started back in November with planning runs straight through the festival day itself.

“We cook in the kitchen all day the day of the festival,” Lazar says. “We also make the matzo ball soup the morning of the event.”

Patrons are encouraged to arrive early in the noon to 4 p.m. festival window for the widest selection of choices. One thing to remember: To keep kosher, the festival offers meat but not dairy products. All of the food, including dessert, is dairy-free. So don’t ask for cheese on your sandwich, and you’ll do just fine.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Lazar says. “And the food is amazing.”

York Jewish Food 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 features a wide variety of Jewish deli sandwiches, sides and desserts as well as performances by the Mummers and displays by local vendors.

Admission is free. Food purchases are cash-only.

For more information, visit or reach festival organizer Rachel Singer at or 843-0918.

— Reach Mel Barber at