Latke Lessons

Mountain Jewish Festival event chair Carol Leaman is cooking for you as you read this. Photo by Rimas Zailskas.

Mountain Jewish Festival event chair Carol Leaman is cooking for you as you read this. Photo by Rimas Zailskas.

As Jewish people around the world prepare for a new year, Hendersonville’s community is entering a period of rebirth, as well. The Agudas Israel Congregation will honor the Jewish new year of Rosh Hashanah in September — but first it will give us a celebration of a different kind.

The synagogue will host Hendersonville’s first annual Mountain Jewish Festival this month. It promises to be a lively afternoon of food, music, and cultural experiences that highlight traditions and holidays.
Visitors will be welcomed at the door with traditional music. “Tidbits of Judaism” displays inside will highlight Jewish holidays and cultural milestones.

A Shabbat booth will include candles, wine, and traditional foods. Acknowledging the high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur just around the corner, sacred objects like the shofar (a ram’s horn blown like a trumpet to mark the beginning and end of the holidays) will be on exhibit.

Though she’s excited about the synagogue’s newly renovated kitchen, which prompted the timing of the festival, event chair Carol Leaman stresses an educational component. “We’re going to have different booths that will teach people about Passover, Hanukkah, Purim, Rosh Hashanah,” she says. “We’ll be showing how Challah bread is made. Our docents will be giving tours, and we’ll even display an open Torah.”

The festival also marks the arrival of the congregation’s new rabbi — a young, energetic woman named Rachael Jackson, who spent years in Colorado and says, “mountains are in my DNA.”

Her first few weeks on the job have been a whirlwind of getting to know members of the congregation and interfaith leaders in the region. “This community is fantastic,” says Rabbi Jackson. “Everyone is so welcoming and generous in every way.”

The Mountain Jewish Festival is one of her first opportunities to connect the greater Hendersonville community with the Jewish faith. Everyone is welcome at the festival, whether they grew up singing Hebrew melodies or are just learning about the culture. “We hope that people will have a new experience that they might not have had elsewhere,” she says. “We feel that being the synagogue in Hendersonville, we’re the people to offer that.”

Food is central to the Jewish experience, and a great jumping off point for people who may be curious about Jewish culture, she says. Congregation members will serve up homemade chicken soup with matzoh balls, potato latkes, and mandelbread cookies that would make a Jewish grandmother smile.

People who remember these foods from their childhoods are welcome to indulge their nostalgia and share their enthusiasm with fellow Hendersonville residents.
“Being a minority, just letting people know who we are and a little bit about our traditions is really great,” says Jackson. “We also hope that they have fun and get to taste this amazing food that we’ve all grown up on and love.”

The Mountain Jewish Festival happens August 16, 11am-3pm, at Agudas Israel Synagogue (505 Glasgow Lane, Hendersonville). Agudasisraelsynagogue.org, 828-693-9838.

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