Jewish Food Has Gotten Hip. But If You Go Back Far Enough, It's Always Been Fusion. | Food Feature | Indy Week
Pin It

Jewish Food Has Gotten Hip. But If You Go Back Far Enough, It's Always Been Fusion. 

Just as family gathers for a meal, Jews and non-Jews alike converged on Sunday at UNC-Chapel Hill for the Jewish Food in the Global South Symposium, together exploring the complexity of Jewish food—what it is, where it's from, and, perhaps most hotly debated, to whom it now belongs.

The first event of its kind, hosted by the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies and generously sponsored by UNC alumni Jimmy and Susan Pittleman, the symposium attracted a packed house and offered hardly a moment for quiet reflection; attendees broke away from the often lively discussions only to eat. (Among the goodies: mounds of chopped liver, pastrami and pimento cheese biscuits from Neal's Deli, and a Jerusalem-Palestinian-inspired spread from Mediterranean Deli.)

"[The Pittlemans] wanted a program related to Jewish-American food," said Marcie Cohen Ferris, an American studies professor who cochaired the event. "I saw it as an opportunity to turn the lens onto global food, but in this special place [the South]. I want people to see Jewish food with its deep-layered vibrancy in American cuisine."

The series of panels began with "The Jewish Kitchen: History and Politics" and ended with "The New American Deli: Global Southern-Style." In between were many others, laced with Jewish humor and Yiddish sayings. The two-dozen-plus panelists and audience of 245 were in agreement that they'd never heard the word "gefilte fish" uttered so many times in a single day.

The symposium brought together leaders in the Jewish culinary niche from around the country and here in the Triangle. The spiciest exchanges came during discussions about which Jewish dishes and techniques are actually Jewish and how best to honor their long, complex traditions.

Sam Suchoff, owner of Chapel Hill's The Pig, admitted that, as a bar-mitzvahed former vegan turned pork connoisseur, his is "a story of contradictions." Panelists and audience members hotly contested notions about the authenticity of Jewish food, debating whether the "hipsterization" of Jewish food did justice to the rich culture and cuisine. "It's all fusion if you go back far enough," explained Ari Weinzweig, author, historian, self-proclaimed anarchist, and co-founding partner of Zingerman's Delicatessen in Ann Arbor, Michigan. And, as if to settle the debate, Laura Silver, author of Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food, announced, "Sometimes what you dip a knish in helps navigate all that."

The palpable kinship suggested a consensus: Jewish food is as much about place and survivorship as it is about flavors and nostalgia. It is the food of immigrants, of roaming, of politics, and of conflict. It is a food of constant change that also holds people together.

Finally, an audience member asked what we'd all been thinking: Why had there been such a strong police presence in an otherwise empty building, on a quiet Sunday on UNC's campus? Cohen Ferris confirmed that she had requested more security for the crowd's safety. In an interview conducted two days prior to the symposium in the wake of the bomb threat to Durham's Lerner School, she explained, "These kinds of attacks on religious groups happen when a society is in a particularly anxious time. We're in that moment. But, those who hope to stir [us] up actually embolden "the other" and make us more proud to be us."

Kim Severson, a New York Times journalist and keynote moderator, asked panelists, "Can we cook to counter the incredible rise of anti-Semitism in this country?" Alon Shaya, an award-winning New Orleans-based Israeli chef (Shaya, Domenica), answered, "I've never had a bad conversation about food. Food is love."

In closing, Cohen Ferris, managed to turn the sobering topic of extra security into something positive: "Look, we are no longer gathering in ghettos; we now gather in symposiums."

This article appeared in print with the headline “Dawn of the Deli."


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Food Feature

Twitter Activity


We are a Greek family from Dallas who know good Greek food when we see it and are accustomed to …

by Taso on Kipos Greek Taverna (Orange County)

Don't waste your $$ here. Horrible service, mediocre food. From what we heard - kitchen turnover is the issue due …

by Ibaguru on Piedmont Restaurant (Durham County)

Most Recent Comments

Great food and service. Very impressive and comfortable atmosphere. For a restaurant thats been open for about 40 days, Zwelis …

by Ernest H. Johnson on Zweli's Piri Piri Kitchen Brings Zimbabwean Flavor and Local Soul to a Durham Strip Mall Dominated by Chains (Food Feature)

It's an amazing concept! I love it - it's so encompassing and includes everybody - the blessed and the blessers! …

by Laurel Archer on Food Triangle: At A Place at the Table, Raleigh’s Only Pay-What-You-Want Cafe, Maggie Kane Wants to Do More Than Feed the Hungry (Food Feature)

I loved the 100 Local column! So many dishes we have never heard of from places we have never been …

by S Finch on Eat Your Way From A to Z With 100 Local Dishes You Can Have Right Now (Food Feature)

It used to be "you need an education to make it anywhere." Now it's "do I really need tens of …

by Aiden on Food Trucks Are So 2016. The Now Thing in Mobile Food is on Instagram, and Its Name Is the Dankery. (Food Feature)

Not sure that the coarse language adds in any way to the story of this person and all his 'dope …

by RandyNC on Food Trucks Are So 2016. The Now Thing in Mobile Food is on Instagram, and Its Name Is the Dankery. (Food Feature)

© 2018 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation