'Jewish Foodie' explores American Jewish communities through food

'Jewish Foodie' is the latest effort of the Ruderman Family Foundation to strengthen the bond between Israel and American Jewry.

 ORI LAIZEROUVICH and Paul Weissman of the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy at Katz's Deli in NYC while filming 'Jewish Foodie'. (photo credit: RUDERMAN FAMILY FOUNDATION)
ORI LAIZEROUVICH and Paul Weissman of the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy at Katz's Deli in NYC while filming 'Jewish Foodie'.
(photo credit: RUDERMAN FAMILY FOUNDATION)

‘Hi, my name is Ori Laizerouvich, actor, comedian and professional hamantaschen maker,” the Israeli actor says in a promo for a new online series filmed in the US, called Jewish Foodie while dancing with Chabad hassidim in Crown Heights and learning about Chinese food and its Jewish connection.

Jewish Foodie is the latest effort of the Ruderman Family Foundation to strengthen the bond between Israel and American Jewry. They recently launched this 10-part original online series.

“It’s like comparing apples and oranges,” Laizerouvich told The Jerusalem Post, when asked what his favorite American Jewish dish was. “I love Jewish food and my mom makes the best kreplach. In my opinion, every dish is distinctive with a story and heritage behind it.”

But after the Post insisted on an answer, Laizerouvich revealed that he actually loved the “story about the Brisket in Memphis,” due to the fact that “the Jewish community there is so small and there are no Kosher restaurants, so they have to cook their own food every day, including holidays.”

Laizerouvich is known to Israelis for his roles in the Shababnikim series, which earned him an Israeli Academy Award for best actor. In addition, he is a regular on the Eretz Nehederet show, the Israeli version of Saturday Night Live.

 A City Harvest truck delivers pallets of kosher food to Masbia of Boro Park as part of their annual Passover Food Drive, April 11, 2022. (credit: Masbia/City Harvest/JTA) A City Harvest truck delivers pallets of kosher food to Masbia of Boro Park as part of their annual Passover Food Drive, April 11, 2022. (credit: Masbia/City Harvest/JTA)

Hosted by the well-known Israeli actor and comedian Ori Laizerouvich, Jewish Foodie takes viewers on a journey of the broad diversity of American Jewry as a whole and its communities in particular through the innovative vehicle of food. Focusing on the personal stories and cultural influences associated with Jewish food in four American regions, the series explores the Northeast, with its bagels and lox, knishes, delis, hot dogs, Chinese food, and vegan fare; the Southeast, including BBQ, bourbon and baked goods; the Southwest, featuring tacos, Jewish-style burgers with latkes (“Jew Boy Burger”), huevos rancheros, and rodeo food; and the Midwest, with pastrami sandwiches, bison burgers and Hanukkah gelt-making.

Viewers not only discover American Jewish communities’ food stories, but also the broader character of the communities themselves and their members, including communities whose Jewish presence may be surprising.

In one of the scenes, Laizerouvich gets emotional, while visiting the Lower East Side of New York City. The shop owner of a knish bakery explained to Laizerouvich that he sees the importance of keeping his business open since this is a way to promote Judaism and remember the rich Jewish history in this neighborhood. “I walked into Yonah Shimmel’s small shop that was founded in 1910” Laizerouvich remembered the moment and tried to reflect. He explained that “the Jewish people who emigrated from Europe didn’t only bring the customs and the rabbis from their towns in eastern Europe, they brought their own food – the knish,” Laizerouvich portrayed that moment.

“The service lady shared with me that Yonah Shimmel had a vision in 1910, to teach people Torah and his wife made the knishes. She explained that the knish is like the Torah, it never dies. That’s why they are there for so many years. It really moved me.”

ALTHOUGH HE has some family and Jewish friends in the US, Laizerouvich shared that he was never deeply exposed to the Jewish-American culture. “I have to admit that during the shootings I discovered a lot about the Jewish-American community and their cultural accommodations,” he shared. Laizerouvich added that “People opened their hearts and houses and made me truly understand what it means to be Jewish in America.”

In his opinion, “In Israel, it’s really easy to be Jewish. In the US, you have to make augmentations and that was really eye-opening to discover and learn.”

As an Israel, Laizerouvich said that he felt as if he went on a life-changing journey: “American Jewish food is about so much more than bagels and lox, or matzah ball soup. I got to taste delicious and creative Jewish spins on foods like burgers, breakfast tacos and huevos rancheros.

"Jewish communities in the US have put their identity on their food in a big way.”

Ori Laizerouvich

He also said that he feels an obligation to tell more and more Israelis about the second largest Jewish community in the world. “Israelis should know that American Jews should not be painted with a broad brush and that food tells a larger story about that diversity,” Laizerouvich shared.

Claiming that America’s Jewish community is “diverse and adventurous,” he felt that there is a difference between them and Israelis: “They [American Jews]  consider it very important to be part of their larger diverse communities and not solely the Jewish community. That approach is clear when you look at the special cultural food mash-ups that they have created around the country.”

As an example of one of those mash-ups, Laizerouvich gave a glimpse into one of the episodes. “The best example I can think of from the Jewish Foodie series is of Mo Pittle, the owner of JewBoy Burgers in Austin, who admits that his restaurant’s name is criticized because it might bring up a negative stereotype about Jews,” he said.

Laizerouvich explained that “Mo does not apologize about the name of his restaurant, because he is comfortable in his own skin and identity. The name stems from his childhood in El Paso, where he was the only Jew in his group of friends, who gave him the nickname ‘JewBoy,’ as a spin on ‘homeboy.’ Mo sticks to his story, regardless of what anyone else thinks of it and I really admire his courage,” he said and laughed while saying “it definitely doesn’t hurt that he gave me a burger that was topped with a latke, which was absolutely delicious.”

“Food is one of the most powerful connectors between people and therefore, it is an ideal vehicle for an initiative that forges warmer ties between Israelis and American Jews,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “Whether it be through history, culture, diversity and the revelation of the unique nature of each community, our new video series promises to take viewers on an unforgettable journey that simultaneously brings the world’s two largest Jewish population centers closer together.”

Every week, two episodes from each region will be released on the Foundation’s Facebook and YouTube pages.

Every week, two episodes from each region will be released on the Foundation’s Facebook and YouTube pages. The production company that worked on the series is Nawipro, it was directed by Or Sitt and created and produced by the Ruderman Family Foundation.