When we first moved to Spokane almost 14 years ago now, we found an apartment on the South Hill, and liked the area so much that both our next apartment, and then the first house we bought, were all in the same general vicinity. Several times a week on our way to church, or to the library, or to visit friends, we would drive past Temple Beth Shalom, a geometrically interesting building with a large cast iron menorah prominently displayed on the front. And every March they hung a huge banner across the corner of the property inviting one and all to come to their annual Kosher Dinner. Every year I'd make a comment about how I'd really like to attend some time, and every year something would come up and it would slip off my radar and the opportunity would pass by.
Until this year!
My sister Meredith, who recently attended her first meeting of the Spokane Interfaith Counsel, called me up the week before excited about discovering that a synagogue in town had an annual kosher dinner and asking if I'd like to go. Yes, I would! I jumped at the chance to make this more-than-a-decade-old intention a reality. So she reserved our tickets online and this past Sunday afternoon, she, my mother, and I headed back to my old stomping grounds in that part of town for some yummy food and cultural entertainment. We were enthusiastically greeted by members of the congregation, including Rabbi Michael Goldstein, and invited into the beautiful sanctuary (I loved the stained glass windows!) to enjoy some live music while we waited for our turn to eat.
The friendly ushers danced in the aisles as they directed us to our pew just in time to hear the last song by a group called Chutzpah. The band was high-energy, jazzy, and the music was oh-so-Jewish; the clarinetist was particularly fun, and I was disappointed we only caught the tail end of their performance! Rabbi Goldstein spoke briefly as they cleared the stage, welcoming the guests and explaining some of the rules of kosher food which their conservative congregation observes. For example, based on scriptures in Leviticus, there is a complete separation between milk and meat, including separate cooking and eating utensils which are not even washed together, and a waiting period after consuming one before the other can be eaten. Kosher meat is also butchered in a very specific way; Spokane doesn't have a supplier who can provide the thousand-plus pounds of kosher beef brisket Temple Beth Shalom requires for this annual dinner, so it was all shipped over from Seattle. It was a great informative introduction. He then introduced a group of a half dozen high schoolers who called themselves "Jew Kids on the Block" who took the stage for a four-song revue of "Jewish Music through the Decades" including "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" by Gershwin, "America" from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein, "My Life" by Billy Joel, and a spunky piece by contemporary Jewish musician Matisyahu. Right before we were ushered into the dining room, a three-woman group called "The Shabbos Shaynas" started their set of traditional Jewish Sabbath music. Beautiful harmonies!
Despite a greeter's tongue-in-cheek admonition to eat "carrots before cake", the tantalizing apricot kuchen was already in place when we sat down, so dessert was the first thing gone! A basket of challah bread with several different relishes was placed close by as well. I tried pickled herring for the first time, and it wasn't nearly as dreadful as it sounds. Really!
Our patient waiting was rewarded when the servers set a plate full of aromatic goodness in front of each of us. Mediterranean spiced apples provided sweetness to balance the savory carrot tzimmes, the delicious potato knishes, and the to-die-for beef brisket. Honestly, melt-in-your-mouth, never-had-it-so-good beef brisket. (And cooked with a recipe that has been passed down for generations, for very good reasons.) At one point during the dinner, my sister made a comment to me which I totally missed. "I'm sorry, Dith, what did you say? I was communing with my brisket." I'm completely convinced now that holy envy can apply to religious culinary experiences, too.
In a brilliant marketing move, there was a bake sale between the dining room and the exit. We picked up some more of that exquisite challah bread and a few potato knishes to take home to our menfolk.
I love learning about other faiths and cultures, and this Kosher Dinner was a great experience. If you ever have the chance, I highly recommend going!