Thursday, March 23, 2023

A hot pastrami sandwich can be either an exotic delicacy or nostalgic comfort food, depending on your perspective. For the hundreds of people from all walks of life who attended the Jewish Food Fest in Scranton, Pennsylvania on July 3, it was the most popular item, selling out before the day ended. But there were still many other mouthwatering selections to choose from.

Organized by Chabad’s Jewish Discovery Center in nearby Clarks Summit, the four-day Jewish Food Fest has become an annual tradition. The festival began 10 years ago when Rabbi Benny Rapoport, director, realized that food was the star of their fundraiser events. “We used to do a community concert or comedy performance and have a reception before or after,” he said. “But the real star of the event was the food. So we decided to bring it outside.”

The menu was divided into four categories: Classic Deli, including hot and cold pastrami, stuffed cabbage, potato knishes and sweet noodle kugel; A taste of Israel, with falafel, shawarma, chicken schnitzel and salads; The Grill, for hot dogs, Moroccan burgers, pulled brisket sandwiches and barbecued beef ribs; and Dessert, with chocolate babka, apple strudel, fruit smoothies and funnel cakes. Orders were filled under a canopy where busy workers grilled, poured, blended and heated. Families took their trays to picnic tables, or ordered food to bring home. All the food was prepared by the Jewish Discovery Center.

The festival was held in Nay Aug Park, a beautiful, 73-acre site with the Everhart Museum at one end and a children’s playground at the other. It was a perfect destination for a visit with our daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, who moved to Scranton a year ago. My husband and I followed our swinging, sliding, climbing grandchildren around the playground and when they had enough, we headed to the Food Fest, where the adults enjoyed pulled brisket sandwiches, a Moroccan burger and fries while the kids munched on hot dogs and schnitzel, washed down with strawberry smoothies.

This year’s event drew over 1,000 people, as it does each year. “It’s a unique event for the Jewish community and beyond,” said Rabbi Rapoport. “It’s a real mix: people from the local frum community and people passing through vacationing. There’s also a cultural Jewish community and they’re excited to have the food they grew up with and can show their friends. We like to meet local people, show them we’re normal and build a relationship.”

Scranton has a thriving Jewish community with three Orthodox synagogues, two day schools, a yeshiva and the Scranton Community Kollel. The yeshiva maintains a well-stocked co-op grocery store and the local supermarkets have a selection of kosher items. Krispy Kreme Donuts and Rita’s Italian Ices have kosher treats. Kingston Kosher Pizza is a short drive from Scranton.

If you would like to visit Scranton, contact Rabbi Alex Hecht, Beth Shalom Congregation: [email protected]

While the Catskills are better known as the Jewish Alps, the Poconos are a worthy alternative. Several resorts dot the area, including the Kalahari, Mount Airy Lodge, Great Wolf Lodge and the Lodge at Woodloch. In the winter there’s plenty of skiing. There are Jewish enclaves sprinkled throughout the area, including an Orthodox synagogue and summer community at Chapman Lake.

If you plan a trip to the Poconos, you can taste the Jewish Discovery Center’s quality cooking. Their Pocono Kosher Takeout has a well-rounded menu of dairy and meat options that can be ordered with advance notice. With a minimum order, they will deliver to hotels and vacation homes in the area. For more information, menus and requirements, visit https://www.jewishdiscoverycenter.org or email[email protected].

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