The Jewish obsession with food will be on full display at the In One Voice Jewish culture street festival in Elsternwick on Sunday 19 March.
The number of stalls has doubled this year and festival-goers will get to feast on foods from the multi-ethnic thousand years’ old Jewish tradition – falafel, chicken soup, knaidlach, shakshuka, kreplach...
All the food at In One Voice Food will be Kosher. A hummus competition, judged by TV chef Alice 'In Frames’ Zaslavsky, is also on the menu.
Even better, festival-goers can learn how to prepare dishes themselves at the numerous food demonstrations in the Nosh Tent.
Indian Jewish food is back by popular demand, with new cooks demonstrating their specialties and expertise. One of the starring dishes will be halva, the confection popular across the Middle East, South Asia, Central Asia, West Asia, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, the Balkans, Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Malta and the Jewish diaspora.
Two different varieties of halva will be prepared.
Esther and Ken Daniels, together with Esther’s sister Rebecca Joseph, will demonstrate their Rosh Hashanah favourite – a delicate, not overly sweet version, made with coconut milk, corn flour, sugar and lots of nuts, traditionally made only by Jews from India.
“A traditional halva takes at least four hours of stirring but our version takes only 45 minutes to an hour. Once the stirring is done, it sets and we then cut it into diamond shapes. We usually colour it green or pink. It’s great as a dessert,” Esther said.
Ronny Judah is preparing a carrot halva with stronger Indian influences – finely grated carrot cooked with soya milk, ground cardamom, sugar, black currants and cashew nuts.
“I stir the halva over a low flame for about half an hour until the milk evaporates. Using condensed milk cuts the stirring time to around 20 minutes. Adding saffron gives it a wonderful golden colour. It can be poured into cups and topped with crushed nuts such as cashews,” Ronny said.
The Daniels and Rebecca Joseph will also demonstrate a savoury dish – coconut rice with spiced peas and potatoes – while Ronny Judah is cooking batata wadas, a potato snack.
The Daniels and Rebecca Joseph all hail from the ancient Jewish community in Mumbai. Jews settled in India, probably in the year 175 BCE, after being shipwrecked off the coast of Mumbai. Other Jewish migrants settled in and around Mumbai in the eighteenth century and then in a few other places. They are known as Bene Israel (‘Sons of Israel’).
“The Jewish community lost its scriptures in the shipwreck but we kept Kosher, circumcised our baby boys, said the Shema and kept the Sabbath as a day of rest. We also maintained other customs such as wearing white on Yom Kippur. Our scriptures were restored to us in the 1700s. We experienced no anti-Semitism in India. The Hindus made us very welcome, as did the Muslims,” Esther said.
“I went to a private girls’ school run by nuns, as the Jewish school in Mumbai was too far away but we still maintained our identity. My father would travel long distances to buy Kosher meat but we mostly ate a lot of vegetables and fish. Our special meal on Friday nights was often goat or lamb meat and our Sabbath lights were oil lamps, not candles. We rarely ate beef out of respect for the Hindus.
“My father was the president of the synagogue and was always worried that my three sisters and I would marry outside of our faith – and was very relieved when we all married Jewish boys!”
Ronny Judah was born in Jabalpur, about 20 hours by train from Mumbai.
“The Jewish community there was small but our family did its best to make up for it. My grandfather worked for the British Army and was granted a large property where he raised his 22 children, all born of the same wife,” Ronny said.
“Ten of his children and their families also lived in the compound after marriage. We had a prayer hall where all the local Jews could gather. The family was big enough to field two cricket teams! My uncle kept goats which could be slaughtered for us – otherwise it was hard to get Kosher meat.”
It is estimated that there were 6,000 Bene Israel in the 1830s, 10,000 at the turn of the twentieth century, and 20,000 in 1948, at the peak. Since then, most of the population has migrated to Israel, the USA, Canada, England and Australia but there are still eight synagogues in Mumbai.
Joining the Indian Jews in the Nosh Tent are Linda Weidenfeld from Foodalicious, who will be preparing vegetarian dishes, and Mish Arndt, who runs Mish’s Dishes Cooking School in Bentleigh. Mish, who was born in Dublin, will be showing festival-goers how to bake soda bread and Irish Brown Bread.
“There were about a thousand people in the Jewish community when I was growing up – it was small but vibrant. I went to Jewish primary and secondary schools and there were five shuls from progressive to the very Orthodox Machzikei Hadass,” Mish said.
Details of how to enter the hummus competition are still being finalised.
The In One Voice Jewish street festival is presented by the Kadimah Jewish Cultural Centre and National Library and SKIF.