“It can be hard to find a happy medium in the Jewish community,” a petite, black-haired young woman informed us last Friday night, while framed against floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the darkening, Red Hook skyline, her hands cradling a fig-flavored variant on the Moscow Mule. “Honestly, I’ve been to Shabbat services all over the city, and they’ve either been intensely orthodox, or everyone’s busy doing coke in the bathroom.”
No one would mistake the attendees of the recent, bi-monthly installment of Pop-Up Shabbat as orthodox, a gaggle of spirited twenty to forty-something’s attired in NYC business casual or artsy chic. And dinner conversations were buoyed not by coke, but a selection of thoughtfully composed cocktails, along with bottles of Viognier spaced at interim along the communal tables, meant for sharing with newly found friends (granted, the bathroom was locked for an inordinately long time, but only because Mile End owner Noah Bernamoff, whose sprawling Pier 41 commissary is the latest host, had forgotten to re-open it at the end of shift).
All in all, it’s a Sabbath celebration perfectly calibrated to suit a particular brand of Jew; less devoutly religious, but still keen to connect on a cultural level. And what better way to unite than around a common, much-loved interest; food? Certainly, the structure of Pop-Up Shabbat (whose foray into religiosity doesn’t extend far beyond the Friday night prayers over light and bread) is well in line with family holidays as we remember them. Hanukkah was for latkes, Passover for matzoh, Purim for hamantaschen, and even Christmas and Easter got thrown in for good measure — because there were just too many good eats involved to miss out on.
Indeed, the fare at Pop-Up Shabbat, which is catered by a rotating roster of well-known foodie Jews, like Gefilteria, Mile End and Dassara, and designed around themes like “Collards and Kugel,” and “Night Among the Tsars,” has been known to attract followers outside of the faith. This was certainly true at the recent “M.O.T’s in Morocco” event, where a diverse crowd broke harissa oil-drizzled challah together and passed platters of tamarind-spiced stuffed carrots and saffron-scented beef tagine, while Zikrayat, a drumming duo, strummed from a makeshift staging area decorated with hanging Berber rugs.
Not that more pious members of the tribe would feel left out; the transient dinner party is all about non-judgmental inclusivity. It’s not even entirely awkward to arrive alone…there are a number of solo stragglers and first timers, and pairs and groups are quick to draw others into idle chitchat. And if all else fails, there’s always the pre-dessert mixer, when everyone disperses to seek out the stranger carrying a corresponding scrap of paper (everyone is handed a common Jewish phrase, word or name at the beginning of the evening). Perhaps you’ll find the Simon to your Garfunkel, the Bette to your Barbra, or the schlemiel to your schlimazel. You might even finally meet that good (but not too Jewish) boy. Your bubby would be so proud.
For more info, visit popupshabbat.com