The kugel crew gets cracking early. Eggs by the dozen are disappearing into a fleet of stand mixers in the kitchen at Beth Israel Congregation this rainy Sunday morning. Beat with sugar and cream cheese, they’re bound for buttered noodles, raisins, cottage cheese and sour cream to make the custardy casserole that’s a beloved Beth Israel Bazaar staple.
The 52nd annual Beth Israel Bazaar, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., March 27, dishes up authentic Jewish foods, deli favorites and Middle Eastern fare, plus gourmet desserts and frozen dishes for take-home sale, at Beth Israel Congregation, 5315 Old Canton Rd.
The annual fundraiser, which also includes a raffle, silent auction and white elephant sale, supports community service projects and local charities.
In the kitchen, the disco groove of ’70s favorites is just audible over the fans of the convection oven, where pans of kugel are baking to the first hint of golden perfection. The beats supply a supporting rhythm to the whir and stir of the production line. A few women even throw in a shoulder shake or shimmy now and then, as they make the rich, tasty dish.
Betsy Samuels has overseen the kugel crew and production for at least 30 years. Beth Orlansky, who’s been helping her since the start, has both hands in a humongous bowl, incorporating the mass of ingredients. Once the stovetop clears of melting butter, Orlansky will hop on production of carrot tzimmes, another authentic side dish.
Beside her, Molly Mandel opts for a huge spoon to mix the noodle/dairy concoction. “I’m getting my workout,” she says, stopping to marvel at the massive effort. “I make kugel at home, but not on an assembly line,” she says, laughing. “This is amazing to watch, too. Kugel is one of my favorites, and this is a really good recipe.” The bazaar’s kugel recipe originally came from Rachelle Geiger.
Samuels last year tapped her successors on the kugel crew, grooming Rachel Myers, Alli Parshall and Erica Weil to take over. They’d previously worked together or had connections through the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life.
Turns out, it wasn’t the only production that would engage all three. “This is the best part of the story,” Myers says. “I just had a baby a month ago. Alli is due in May and Erica is due in July.”
“So, last year, they agreed to do this,” Samuels says, “and then I heard about all these babies, and I kind of freaked out. So, we kind of picked a time where they weren’t sick anymore and baby wasn’t this tiny,” she says, cupping her hands.
Myers, amazed at her first sight of the kugel crew last year, was also comforted by its clockwork precision. “Having worked with Betsy for years, I knew — she’s a systematic woman. She’s the one that makes sure that everything runs correctly. So, I knew that we would be a part of something that was taken care of. … You can’t really mess it up. She’s designed that way.
“Alli, Erica and I felt really comfortable inheriting it, knowing that it was essentially already a system, well done. Next year, the three of us will all manage all of this,” she says, working from Samuels’ detailed notes on orders, amounts, volunteers and more.
The three women all live within two blocks of each other in Fondren. “It’s fun,” Weil says. “We like hanging out with each other. And, then, we get to accomplish something in the end.”
A year ago, taking over seemed really far away, Parshall concedes. But now that it’s here, “We’re in good hands. Betsy’s been doing this forever. She’s incredibly organized. It’s also a very forgiving recipe. You put a little extra sugar in it, no one’s going to mind.
“And, there’s this army of women with the experience of doing it a long time. So, I feel like, everyone’s going to make sure we don’t ruin kugel for the bazaar. … I think, between the three of us, we can handle what Betsy’s done.”
It’s intimidating. But also, “It’s our turn,” Parshall says. “If I want kugel making for my kids in 10 years, I have to be a part of it. We have to build the congregation that we want.”