Some Food for Thought: The Why’s at the Y’s


Hoping to whet many an appetite, the Gershman Y choose a panel discussion about the fine art of food writing — including one journalist who even penned an article about the Jewish obsession with pork — to kick off its participation in the "Live at the 92nd Street Y Program."

Begun in 2002, the satellite broadcast program allows Jewish institutions across the country to view lectures, panels and literary readings that take place at the 92nd Street Y, a New York institution founded back in 1874 that has developed a reputation for hosting high-profile, and often very pricey, speakers.

Some 37 institutions around the country currently participate in the program. Audience members in each location are encouraged to submit questions to the speakers via e-mail to help foster the feeling of interaction.

Judy Bitman Wortman, director of the Gershman Y, said that the idea is to expose people to speakers in New York who might not appear locally. She added that the $800 or so it costs the Y to take part in one such event is just a fraction of what it would cost to bring in many guest speakers to Philadelphia.

The June 13 Center City program was not open to the public, but instead doubled as a test run for upcoming events, as well as a "thank you" to donors, according to Donna Katz, a spokesperson for the Y.

However, two public programs will take place in September — one featuring the comedian Martin Short, and the other showcasing Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of Why Bad Things Happen to Good People and numerous other books.

A Learning Experience

The food event included a live screening from the 92nd Street Y of a panel of writers, all of whose work was featured in a supplement to the August issue of Gourmet magazine, called "A Celebration of Life's Simple Pleasures."

The panelists were Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl, novelist Ann Patchett, food critics Jane and Michael Stern, and journalist David Rakoff.

"Food writing, like all good writing, is an intimate exchange," said Andrew Schloss, food columnist for the Jewish Exponent and The Philadelphia Inquirer, who spoke to the audience before the live feed kicked in.

Wortman noted that the event proved to be instructive. For instance, she said that the program clearly needed to start earlier in the evening, since Schloss had less than five minutes to speak before the televised panel began. It also took several minutes for the sound to accompany the picture on the satellite feed.

Wortman also said that organizers didn't know in advance that Jews and pork would come up as a discussion topic, and that not everyone in the Center City audience had been thrilled about that development.

In the August supplement to Gourmet, Rakoff wrote an article that asked "What is it about Jews and pork?" that looked at everything from biblical and talmudic prohibitions against eating pig to attempts by some American Reform rabbis in the late 19th century to do away with Judaism's dietary restrictions.

He also described his own personal pleasure in devouring pork dishes.

"Eating pork is not a transgressive act for me," he wrote.

The mention of Rakoff's article sparked a discussion among the panelists, all of whom, except Patchett, happened to be Jews.

"My family was treif all the way," admitted moderator and radio host Leonard Lopate.

At the end of the panel, Lopate read questions from viewers in different locales, though nearly all of them seemed to be from Dayton or Akron, Ohio.

One viewer wanted to know what the panelists favorite Jewish foods were. And the survey said …

Schmaltz and matzah brei.


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