Special to the Sun
A heady aroma of slowly cooked, lovingly seasoned brisket fills the kitchen at Beth Israel Congregation with a warm blanket of beefy goodness.
Beth Israel Men’s Club members, aka the Brisket Slicing Academy, are aproned and gloved and getting it done, slicing 60 briskets - about 500 pounds of delicious - for the Beth Israel Bazaar March 21
Clay Humphrey, huge chef’s knife in hand, halves the next big brisket across the grain and stacks the still-hefty slabs cut side down, to await their fate on the slicer.
“Clear!” Peter Sharp, manning the slicer, calls out, and Humphrey’s hands go up like a surgeon’s, his gloves red-stained from the last saucy thing he touched. The next half-slab fades into thin, meaty slices that fill another giant aluminum pan - one more heap to keep the hot line and hundreds of diners well fed at the bazaar.
The 51st annual bazaar, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. March 21, at Beth Israel Congregation, 5315 Old Canton Rd., promises authentic Jewish foods, deli favorites and Middle Eastern fare as well as an array of gourmet desserts for sale. Plus, frozen casseroles and desserts for take-home convenience. That includes some frozen brisket, in one-pound amounts, too. How far will that go? “Depends on the size of the appetite, not the size of the family,” Joel Jacobs says.
The bazaar offers fund-raising fun, too, with a raffle, silent auction and a white elephant sale. Proceeds feed back into the community in service projects and local charities.
The food is a primary draw and brisket is the traditional centerpiece of the buffet’s savory Jewish staples. Also included are chicken soup with matzo ball, stuffed cabbage rolls, blintzes, noodle kugel and more. The bazaar’s salute to Jewish delis tempts with a kosher hot dog, corned beef and Swiss on rye or a Reuben, while Israeli specialties include tabbouli, hummus and baba ganoush with pita bread, or chopped liver. Last year’s 50th anniversary bazaar pulled in record numbers, and the hope is the 51st will, too.
Until a few years ago, the annual celebration of food, fundraising and around-the-table fellowship was known as the Beth Israel Sisterhood Bazaar. Driven by the Sisterhood, the bazaar is an all-hands-on-deck endeavor for the entire congregation. “Everybody does step up in one way or another,” Sisterhood president Suzanne Freedman says.
Back in the kitchen, “We just do what they tell us,” Ken Schipper says with a grin, as his tongs scoop up more beef. Brisket is the protein of choice for most Jewish celebrations, the men say, and it anchors a cozy, comfort-food corner in the hearts and tummies of many.
“It takes me back to childhood,” Freedman says, “and just reminds me of home, growing up. Those were the aromas that filled our house.
“For us, it’s very key to the success of our bazaar,” and they couldn’t do without the Men’s Club contributions, she says.
Brisket is “the star of the show,” Humphrey says, and many come from the community for their once-a-year fix. The brisket’s been done the same way for 50-plus years, from a recipe originating with Joan Geiger and her long-time Beth Israel family.
Seasoned briskets braised in bags rest in the fridge to prepare for this slice-and-prep marathon. Bagels, cream cheese and coffee fuel seven men through several hours of work. Not one drop of tasty goes to waste, with cooking juices squeezed into a giant stockpot, and reunited with slices at the finish to keep the meat moist and flavorful. The brisket is actually better once it’s reheated, they say, absorbing moisture for maximum tenderness.
A query about ingredients is met with good-natured howls of protest. ‘It is the Jewish version of KFC’s 11 herbs and spices!” Mark Fijman says.
Those details aren’t leaving the Beth Israel Congregation kitchen. But the brisket will be - in droves, secret recipe and tenderness intact - come March 21.
Beth Israel Bazaar takeout orders can be placed at 601-956-6215 and fax orders can be placed at 601-952-0895. For access to the online silent auction, visit www.32auctions.com/BIC.
(photo) Jonathan Larkin, Joel Jacobs, Clay Humphrey, Ken Schipper, Peter Sharp, Josh Wiener and Mark Fijman slice and prepare brisket for the upcoming Beth Israel Bazaar