Why is this year’s HardLox Jewish Food and Heritage Festival different from all other HardLox festivals (to borrow, arguably, the best-known line of the Passover Seder)? It will be held on HardLox Day, which Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer plans to proclaim this October 19 to kick off the event.
The honor is an exciting milestone for a celebration that’s been around more than a decade. HardLox launched 12 years ago with the aim of bringing exposure to Asheville’s Jewish community — a goal chairman Marty Gillen feels it has met.
“The festival has grown tremendously over the years,” he says. “I see every year that there’s more interest.” He estimates around 4,000 people now attend.
There are currently 12 Jewish organizations in the Asheville area, all of which participate by setting up booths, sharing information, and selling Judaica (items like menorahs). In recent years, though, the festival has extended its reach beyond the city limits. This month, temples from Johnson City, Boone, and Hendersonville will take part.
Dr. Teri Nadler has organized participation in the event by her local congregation, Agudas Israel — led by Rabbi Phillip Cohen, Ph.D., and the only synagogue in Henderson County — for the past four years. During that time, she has witnessed both growth of the festival and growth of her Jewish community. “Our congregation has made sure that everyone is welcome, while building on the Jewish tradition of ‘tikkun olam,’ or repairing the world,” she says.
Yes, the festival is about exploring Judaism in WNC, but it’s also about, well, lox and other traditional cuisine. (For the uninitiated, lox is salmon cured in a salt-sugar rub or brine, typically served atop a bagel with cream cheese.) “It’s the only day of the year that you can get real Jewish food in Asheville,” claims Gillen.
Come HardLox Day, a team of more than 200 volunteers will turn Pack Square Park into a 250-foot-long delicatessen serving corned beef on rye, whitefish-salad sandwiches, latkes, challah, and noodle kugel, among other classics.
Items will be handmade by members of Asheville’s Congregation Beth HaTephila, festival co-sponsor with the city and beneficiary of the event. The task will be no small feat: They’ll create at least 1,100 matzo balls for matzo-ball soup and bake around 1,000 pieces of rugelach, a dessert with cinnamon and raisins.
Some key ingredients, though, will have to be shipped in from Jewish food hubs, including Long Island and Boston. “For those of us who grew up in the Northeast,” says Nadler, “we close our eyes in ecstasy as we bite a real pastrami sandwich or bite into a square knish with mustard — my favorite.”
October 19, 11am-4pm in Pack Square Park (downtown Asheville). Visit hardloxjewishfestival.org for more info.