Sarah Krantz knew that she'd need a good strategy if she was going to take down the reigning champ.
So as she sat hunched over a spread of kosher chicken wings — real wings, bone-in, with a piece of the drum and wing together — she broke the piece in half, rotating the drum and chewing while pulling the meat from the wing itself. As chicken bones piled up, she'd take a quick swig of water to wash it all down and let her assistant wipe the mess off her face before moving on to the next bite.
Suffice it to say: This isn't how your parents gave to Jewish causes. About 200 young adults — many of whom said they rarely, if ever, take part in Jewish events — came out to Shank Bowl last week, a kosher eating contest that doubled as a fundraiser for the Jewish National Fund. Now in its second year, the pre-Pesach pig-out takes its name from the ceremonial shank bone in the Passover seder.
About 20 people competed in separate men's and women's bouts, held at Finnigan's Wake in Northern Liberties. The gents focused on endurance, while the women vied for speed. For Krantz, 22, the chief competition came from last year's defending female champion, Robyn Sussman, 25, who last year ate 46 wings in two rounds.
"I think it's gonna be more classy" than the Wing Bowl, Jeremy Rosen of Philadelphia said shortly before the night's main event, referring to the ribald South Philly pre-Super Bowl tradition. "Kosher wings are just more classy."
But unlike Wing Bowl, he added, "I don't think there's going to be any topless women here."
The wings themselves — approximately 3,000 of them — were prepared by Max & David's, the kosher restaurant and catering company in Elkins Park.
But it's not a wing if it doesn't have a little fire in it, right? According to Max & David's director of sales and marketing Josh Katz, this batch had "a little bit of a kick to them," but, he added, nothing too intense.
While an Irish-themed bar might not seem like the typical spot for a Jewish event, the pub was chosen in part because the owner agreed to donate use of the facility and all proceeds from the evening to JNF, according to JNF executive board member Joel Frisch.
The event raised more than $3,000, according to JNF campaign executive Rachel Baum.
Other event partners were North Bowl bowling alley, Sweat gyms, Helium Comedy Club and the Jewish Exponent.
Part of what made the event notable — apart from the spectacle, that is — was that it appeared to attract two very different kinds of people: those who came just for the big show, and those who viewed it more as a Jewish event.
Temple University graduate student Ben Mishkin of Center City said that he came along to cheer on his friend Sussman. He noted that he rarely attends Jewish events and was unlikely to attend any others in the future.
But folks like Marnie Gornizky of Northern Liberties, who came to cheer on men's competitor Dan Stamm (who lost on the food front, but won for "best entourage"), said that while not extremely Jewishly involved, social events like this — she also recently joined a Jewish bowling league — were a way of becoming more involved.
'Don't Eat Yet!'
As the crowd — most of whom appeared to be under the age of 35 — gathered up front to watch the action unfold, emcee Hadas Kuznits of KYW-1060 hollered out a countdown from 15 to one.
As the eaters began stuffing themselves, she yelled, "Don't eat yet!"
That 15 seconds wasn't meant to be a starting signal — it was to show how quickly children in Sederot, Israel, have to get to their shelters when alarms go off, signaling rocket attacks. Proceeds raised from the evening went to support the JNF's Indoor Recreational Center in Sederot.
With the serious business over, Kuznits relayed the basic rules for the five-minute all-you-can-eat round: contestants had to eat at least 85 percent of the wing for it to count toward their total, and any pukers would be disqualified.
"You want to put it down, but you don't want to throw it up," she declared, likely echoing the thoughts of the contestants themselves only moments later as the chow-down got under way.
Krantz and Sussman kept it close throughout the competition, but in the end, Krantz came out on top with 39 to Sussman's 37.
Sussman said that she ate breakfast and a light lunch, but stopped eating shortly after noon. The Thomas Jefferson University graduate student felt that it was a better route than not eating all day, because "if you don't eat all day, it's like break the fast, and you get full too quickly."
As she watched the first round of the men's competition, newly minted champion Krantz observed that "it's hard to believe I just did this; watching this, I'm like, 'I would never do this.' "
The Center City-based middle-school teacher said that a friend involved with JNF recruited her to participate, and events like these have helped introduce her to the local Jewish community since moving here from her native Florida in 2008.
She did note that she likes wings, but said that now, "I probably won't eat them for months. I used to crave them, but I don't think I'll eat another one for a very long time."