It's not easy to find a good potato knish (mashed potatoes baked in pastry dough) or chocolate babka (layers of dough and chocolate) in Arkansas. But on Sunday, those delicacies and others are in one mouthwatering location.
It's time for the Jewish Food and Cultural Festival, a day-long celebration of Jewish cultural and culinary traditions presented by the Jewish Federation of Arkansas.
Jewish Food and Cultural Festival
Breakfast, 8:30 a.m.; festival 10 a.m.-4 p.m., War Memorial Stadium/AT&T Field, Little Rock
(501) 663-3571 or jewisharkansas.org
"We love to come together and show off our food traditions," says federation director Marianne Tettlebaum. "I hope the first thing people see is how excited we are to share our traditions with the community."
The day starts with breakfast at 8:30 a.m. but the main festival takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when the booths open and activities begin.
The organizers have given some thought to the look of the festival, which is staged around War Memorial Stadium's Gate 1.
"We've been trying to give it more of a feel like you might have of a marketplace you might find in Israel," Tettlebaum says, adding, "We've done some reorganization just to try to provide a more exciting and colorful experience for the people at the festival."
It should also be a tasty experience. The festival draws an average of 10,000 people, who eat their fill of corned beef, blintzes, kugel and rugelach.
Tettlebaum says nearly all the food is handmade by Jewish congregations and volunteers throughout Arkansas, and there's always a run on one bakery item in particular.
"You definitely need to get there early to buy the chocolate babka," she says. "That typically tends to sell out pretty quickly. It is absolutely fantastic. We have just a few chefs who make it and it is really wonderful."
The falafel and potato knishes are also big draws, Tettlebaum says: "I know there are a few places you can get [potato knishes], but they're really hard to find anywhere but the Jewish Food Festival."
It's not all about the food. There will also be craft and gift booths selling artworks, jewelry and traditional Judaica items like candle holders and shofars made of animal horns.
"For the individual artisans and craft people, those are all things that are handmade here in Arkansas by Jewish community members," Tettlebaum says. "The gift shops from our local synagogues do have items they've brought in from Israel and some other places."
Those with questions about Judaism or Israel can seek answers at Ask the Rabbi or one of the festival's other information booths.
As in the past, there will be a replica of Jerusalem's Western Wall. Paper will be provided for people to leave blessings and prayers, which will later be taken to the Western Wall in Israel.
Groups such as Meshugga Klezmer Band and Temple Israel Memphis Ruach Band will play Jewish music throughout the day and the Arkansas Shakespeare Theater's Fiddler on the Roof cast will perform selections from the show.
Booths and stalls are set up in the stadium concourse, where guests will be protected in case of bad weather. If conditions cooperate, there will be activities and games on the AT&T Field for the children.
Since there are no admission or parking fees, visitors can get a good Jewish cultural experience for free and food prices are reasonable enough that a sample won't break the bank.
"As little as $5, people can get a good lunch or a nice selection of baked goods," Tettlebaum says. "You can certainly just come and look around and if nothing else, hear some great Jewish music. We have some of our best cooks in the state baking and cooking for this and I think it's just a fantastic opportunity to come out and try some authentic and homemade Jewish food."
Weekend on 04/23/2015
Print Headline: Taste of Israel comes to LR with Jewish Food Festival