July 14, 2024
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Beha’alotcha: Dog Days of Summer

Bamidbar 11: 20

How many hot dogs are too many?

After the success of their Chanukah latke-eating contest, Posh Nosh Kosher Delicatessen in Long Branch decided to try another competitive eating event. Memorial Day weekend would soon kick off the summer season down on the Jersey Shore, and to heighten awareness of their restaurant among the summer visitors to their beach community, what could be more American than a hot-dog-eating contest? Nathan’s Famous had their nationally renowned competition on the Fourth of July, so why shouldn’t Posh Nosh have one in Long Branch on Memorial Day?

Fliers were put up in all the local synagogues, and an advertisement was placed in the Monmouth County edition of the New Jersey Jewish Link. The contest was to be held in front of the restaurant, and a large crowd was expected.

Memorial Day was a glorious, sunny Monday, the kind Jersey Shore businesses dream of. The beach was packed with bathers, and the streets of Long Branch were teeming with visitors. It was a glorious day to be alive. It was a good day to eat a hot dog.

Personally, I like my hot dogs on a bun with a little sauerkraut and a lot of mustard. One dog is usually enough, maybe two if I’m really hungry. But one or two frankfurters is not what a hot-dog-eating contest is about. Far from it. For at a hot-dog-eating contest, the objective is to cram as many wieners down your throat as you can in a short period of time—in this particular instance, 12 minutes. Last year, the winner of the Nathan’s Famous contest dispatched 53 hot dogs. It gives me indigestion just talking about it.

Ten contestants, or gurgitators, as they are known on the competitive-eating circuit, had gathered to eat themselves into oblivion. Most were local volunteers; some who felt they were world class eaters, others who just loved their processed meats. Richie Dreizin had earned himself an automatic slot in the competition by virtue of his victory in the latke contest (36 latkes, if you’re interested), but other than Richie, the field was strictly amateurs.

The judges had been selected from the local community. Steven Posner was the owner of Posh Nosh, Danit Lowenberg was a councilwoman on the Long Branch town council, and Rabbi Zuckerman was the rabbi of one of the local congregations, B’nai Joshua.

No one had expected Rabbi Zuckerman to accept the invitation to judge the contest. He was a kind, gentle man, beloved in the community, but he was a somewhat ascetic person, who believed in a modest lifestyle of Torah and mitzvot, and the organizers of the event didn’t think he would approve of the mass consumption that this event demanded. The invitation had been considered a courtesy. Still, Rabbi Zuckerman had agreed to be a judge, and he was a welcome member of the panel.

Truth be told, Rabbi Noah Zuckerman had no idea what a hot-dog-eating competition was. He assumed it was a contest to choose the tastiest frankfurter. He had agreed to be a judge so he could get out among his congregants, teach about the brachot on sauerkraut and relish, maybe even sneak in a dvar Torah about the weekly parsha (he had a real humdinger about Vayehi binsoah ha’aron). He had no notion about what was about to occur.

The contestants took their seats on the stage, and the judges sat in the front row at a small table. Rabbi Zuckerman started to suspect something was odd when they loaded the hot dogs next to the gurgitators in large piles. But before he could say a word, someone fired a starter pistol, and the contest began.

The next few minutes were almost beyond description. The 10 contestants were shoving hot dogs in their mouths, buns included, at an alarming rate. Cheeks were bulging. Jaws were flexing. Belts were loosening. It was a meat-eating massacre. A wiener wipe-out. Cured-beef carnage. A foot-long fiasco. It was pure butchery. (I could do this all day.)

At first, Rabbi Zuckerman’s eyes were bugging out of his head like he was witnessing the violation of all sheva mitzvot b’nei Noach simultaneously. His mouth opened like he was trying to speak, but no words came out. But by the 10th minute of the contest, a smile started to cross his face, and by the end he actually seemed to be enjoying himself.

Mark Rubinson, a husky fellow who worked at IDT in Newark as a telecom engineer, won the contest with 21 hot dogs consumed. It was nowhere near a record, but from the audience’s perspective, it was a serious feat of intestinal fortitude, nonetheless.

Steve Posner, the Posh Nosh head honcho, looked over at Rabbi Zuckerman and noticed the beatific smile on his face.

“Are you O.K., Rabbi?”

“I’m fine, Steve, just fine.”

“I really wouldn’t have guessed you would enjoy this, but you seem to be having a good ole time.”

“Actually, it’s one of the most horrible displays of gluttony I have ever witnessed in my life. It was both shocking and appalling at the same time,” Rabbi Zuckerman said.

“Forgive me for asking, Rabbi, but then why are you smiling from ear to ear?”

“Well, there are certain sentences in the Torah you think you may never understand, and then suddenly some incident comes along in your life, and the Torah’s meaning becomes crystal clear.”

“Like what?” Steve asked.

“In this week’s parsha, Beha’alotcha, the people of Israel had a craving for fine food, and pleaded Mi ya’achileinu basar? Who will feed us meat? Hashem tells Israel that they will get a full 30 days of meat, and they’ll eat it ad asher yetzei mei’apchem, vehaya lachem lizara, until it comes out of your nose and becomes nauseating to you.

“I could never understand that passage. How could meat come out of their noses and become disgusting? But now I have a clear insight into that pasuk’s meaning, and I have you to thank, Steven. Thank you,” Rabbi Zuckerman said, shaking Steve’s hand.

“Um, you’re welcome, Rabbi Z.”

Reaching over to a tray passing from the stage back to the restaurant, Steve grabbed a hot dog.

“Rabbi, would you like a frank in a blank for the road? It’s on the house.”

“I’m going to pass.”

“Maybe later?”

“Sure, Steve. Much later.”

Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics.

By Larry Stiefel


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