You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy Jewish food

The Jewish Film Festival serves up culinary movies and workshops.

Cookbook writer and BBC TV show presenter Claudia Roden (photo credit: TIM CLINCH)
Cookbook writer and BBC TV show presenter Claudia Roden
(photo credit: TIM CLINCH)
No self-respecting Jewish social or cultural event would leave out the food, and the 2014 edition of the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival is no exception.
Among the more than 50 works that will be screened at the Jerusalem Cinematheque from December 16 to 23 – feature films, documentaries, shorts, films for junior audiences, and classics – is the “Delicatessen” sector of the program, which will present a number of fine food-related works from across the globe. The section is tastily subtitled “Culinary Cinema and Side Dishes.”
The finger-lickin’ features include Danish director Gabriel Axel’s delightful, Oscarwinning 1987 film Babette’s Feast, and 2013 British culinary comedy Jadoo by Amit Gupta, about feuding British Indian siblings, both chefs, who set up restaurants on opposite sides of the same street.
There are also some fascinating documentaries, particularly The Way We Ate – a culinary cinematic medley featuring the food culture in pre-state Palestine and the first years of the State of Israel. The compilation includes documentary footage from newsreels shot in the dining halls of pioneer-era kibbutzim, various food industries and markets. It offers insight into our eating habits in times of war and austerity, and a glimpse of holiday dishes, restaurants, eating contests, and the delicacies of the well-heeled. It also has some amusing scenes from Israeli feature films. Following the screening, there will be a discussion with Prof. Nir Avieli, head of the Anthropology Department at Ben-Gurion University.
The Sower should also generate some animated dialogue. The work in question is a documentary by Canadian filmmaker Julie Perron, about a pioneer French Canadian called Patrice who attempts to preserve and propagate rare and forgotten types of seeds and to restore variety and diversity to our global agricultural heritage.
The culinary side of the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival strays somewhat beyond the ethnicity that the title implies.
“The films are not necessarily about food in the Jewish world,” says Ronit Vered, who curated “Delicatessen.” “Each day there will be a screening of at least one film with a culinary theme, and there will generally be another event associated with the film.”
One of those complementary items will be a panel discussion after The Sower. By all accounts, it will be a serious affair.
“Together with [Prof.] Sheenan Harpaz [of the Agricultural Research Center’s Volcani Center], the members of the panel will examine what we are doing here in Israel in this area,” Vered explains. “They will talk about all kinds of things, like baladi [traditional] vegetable growing, and preserving different types of seeds, and the seed bank the Volcani Center has established.
The idea is to feed off the documentary, but to focus on the local aspect.”
The curator is clearly looking forward to the postdocumentary session.
“It was very important for me to include [renowned chef and restaurant chain owner] Hussan Abbas,” she says. “Hussan is very much involved in projects on the preservation of traditional agricultural practices. I spend a lot of time going around the country, and I am always amazed to see all the special species of vegetables and fruit growing in the backyards of Arab farmers.”
Progress, she says, has led to a minimization of that farming style. “We are more interested in vegetables that are easier to cultivate, on an industrial scale, and things like shelf life and often taste are the last things in the minds of the people who develop new seed species. As a result, the traditional species that have been growing here for millennia are confined to people’s backyards and smallholdings.”
As is the case every year, the festival roster includes some big names from around the world. One of the star guests of the “Delicatessen” section is venerated cookbook writer and BBC TV show presenter Claudia Roden. The London-based Roden is originally from Cairo, where her Jewish antecedents fled after being expelled from Spain. She has lived in Britain for almost six decades and began collecting recipes from her friends and family in order to recreate the flavors, colors and scents of her childhood. The 1968 publication of her cookbook The Book of Middle Eastern Food is said to have revolutionized Western attitudes toward the cuisines of the Middle East and North Africa.
The “Mediterranean Odyssey” slot with Roden will cover aspects of her life, as well as examine the common ground and differences between Mediterranean cuisines and their Jewish influences. It will also include footage taken from Roden’s 1986 BBC TV cookery series. Moderating the session will be Vered, who is also a food journalist, and TV chef Haim Cohen. Roden will also receive the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival’s Achievement Award.
But her visit to Jerusalem will have a hands-on element to it as well: The famous chef will be honored at the Memula’im Capital of the World event, which will take place at The Culinary Workshop on Hebron Road on December 20.
“One common denominator between all the many types of cuisine you can find in Jerusalem is memula’im (stuffed dishes),” notes Vered. “Stuffed dishes cross all ethnic and religious boundaries.”
Three celebrated chefs will prepare the meal, and Roden will enlighten the diners about the universal history of memula’im. Anyone wishing to participate in the 6:30 p.m. event and, naturally, taste the results, can reserve a place by calling (02) 567-2265.
The other food-related VIP from foreign climes is culinary historian and historical chef Michael Twitty, who is an expert on African-American food culture. He focuses on “identity kitchen,” the way people create and express complex identities through cooking, and the influence of the two minority communities to which he belongs – the African-American and Jewish communities. The “Afro-Sephashkenazi Cuisine with Michael Twitty” workshop and discussion will look at a wide variety of topics relating to Twitty’s life and work, such as how the descendant of black slaves from Africa turned into a nice Jewish boy, and whether there is a connection between African-American and Jewish cuisine.
In addition to all of the above, there is The Sturgeon Queens, a fun and fascinating documentary about a Lower East Side New York family herring emporium, and Steak [E] volution, about Franck Ribière’s globetrotting search for the world’s best steak. There are also some fun food-based tours of Jerusalem. The film festival will certainly have plenty to sink our teeth into.
For more information about the festival: *9377 or