Thousands attend Kosherpalooza food festival in a show of ‘Jewish unity and pride’

In the middle of the Meadowlands Expo Center, Kosherpalooza organizers had set up an area where attendees could ‘Hug a Chayal,’ which is the Hebrew word for soldier.

By Shiryn Ghermezian, The Algemeiner

More than 4,000 people gathered to show support for the kosher food and beverage industry in New Jersey on Thursday at the second annual Kosherpalooza, which held a deeper significance this year amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

Attendees who bought tickets for the all-day, interactive food festival at the Meadowlands Expo Center had their pick of food and beverages from 150 vendors who were exhibiting at the show.

Ticket holders had the opportunity to taste — and sometimes buy — a plethora of kosher options from pancakes to cured meats to root beer.

The vendors included Bethel Creamery, The Pizza Guy, Crave, Meal Mart, Abe’s Ice Cream, Dalton Winery, Latte Royale, Galil, French Press, Halva Kingdom and Cream Gelateria.

There were also 14 live food demonstrations — including one by Israeli singer Gad Elbaz, who showed how to make his Moroccan fish — eight panel discussions, a “paint and sip” corner, interactive games like a hot sauce challenge and a blind taste test, and a meet and greet and book signing with cookbook authors.

A common sentiment expressed by exhibitors and attendees was the feeling of “unity” in the room, while outside a war continued raging in Israel and Gaza and antisemitism reached record-high levels in both the US and around the world.

Support for Israel and the Jewish community was evident throughout Kosherpalooza. Borough Park native Mishael Niyazov attended the event wearing a sweatshirt that featured the message “Free Our Hostages” on the front and back, referring to those abducted during the Hamas terror group’s Oct. 7 invasion of southern Israel.

Yoni Cohen from YJC Trade, which imports products from Israel, returned home three days ago from fighting as an IDF reservist in Gaza and then traveled to the United States for 48 hours to host a booth at Kosherpalooza, featuring Max Brenner chocolates and an assortment of halva and techina from Halva Kingdom.

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He traveled back to Israel on Thursday night.

“I think after Oct. 7, we are really facing now the reality that we only have each other for support and to rely on,” Ben Gingi, an Israeli baker and Instagram influencer, told The Algemeiner. “[Kosherpalooza] to the Jewish community is like a big hug at the moment and giving a lot of stability. It’s beautiful.”

“With everything that’s going on, whenever there’s an opportunity for Jewish people to come together and celebrate something that makes us distinctly Jewish, like our adherence to kosher, it’s a reason to celebrate achdus [togetherness] and Jewish pride,” added Adam Goodfriend, the creator of AGoodFriend.co, a cook-at-home meal kit that is like a kosher version of HelloFresh.

In the middle of the Meadowlands Expo Center, Kosherpalooza organizers had set up an area where attendees could “Hug a Chayal,” which is the Hebrew word for soldier.

The pop-up was organized by Kosherpalooza in collaboration with Nevut, a nonprofit organization founded in 2017 that helps IDF lone soldiers and veterans with their mental health and wellbeing throughout their military service and also when they return to civilian life.

“What it’s going to give the soldiers [being at Kosherpalooza] more than anything is knowing that people care,” said Ari Abramowitz, executive director and co-founder of Nevut, which means “to navigate” in Hebrew.

Abramowitz grew up in Monsey, New York, and was called up as a reservist in the IDF after the Oct. 7 attacks. He has already served twice in Gaza since the start of the war.

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Nevut helped thousands of soldiers travel to Israel to fight for Israel after Oct. 7, and Abramowitz spoke with The Algemeiner about his recent service in the IDF, lone soldiers returning home with post-traumatic stress disorder, and how being at Kosherpalooza helps the soldiers tremendously.

“Where there’s no unity it really breaks apart a nation and this [Kosherpalooza] is bringing us together, seeing so many different walks of life coming together in a room and knowing at the same time that soldiers are on the front lines defending for us — so we can be free and live life,” he said.

“Every one of the soldiers that lost their lives [in the war], it was in order so all of us can be free today and be together. It tears me up inside to speak about it, but they would be very sad to see us broken. But to see all of us together living life, and to be able to live what they defended, is the biggest thing.”

Brooklyn resident Stephanie Neta Benshimol attended Kosherpalooza on behalf of the Hostage and Missing Families Forum wearing a dress that featured a large Star of David and the names of Israelis — civilians, hostages, and soldiers — who were all impacted by the Oct. 7 attacks.

Benshimol, who is Israeli and American, also carried a large Israeli flag and flyers with pictures of the hostages who have been held captive by Hamas terrorists since Oct. 7.

She told The Algemeiner that Kosherpalooza is a display of “Jewish unity” that is crucial now more than ever as Israel continues its war against Hamas terrorists.

“We all have to be united together, no matter what. Israel is am echad, lev ehad [one nation, one heart],” she added.

“That’s the only way we are going to win. No matter what your view is in politics, we need to be in this together. Keep talking about the hostages. Spread awareness. Don’t forget the second Holocaust that happened to the nation of Israel.”

Gitty Halberstam, the creator and owner of the coffee liquor Misceo (which means “to brew” in Latin), agreed “100 percent” that it’s important to show solidarity right now for fellow Jews, whether its for businesses, entrepreneurship, or the Jewish community as a whole.

“We have companies here from all different walks of Jewish life, and the Jewish food and wine beverage industry is so diverse and so large and still everyone is here to help each other and be here together,” she told The Algemeiner.

Miss United States Addison Grace Hadley also attended Kosherpalooza and afterwards shared on Instagram that she left the event “smiling with a VERY full belly.”

The Nashville native was a nanny to three Jewish children while studying in graduate school and after falling in love with the Jewish culture, decided to convert to Judaism.

“I met so many new friends, tried so many delicious new foods, and had some deeply meaningful conversations with inclusive, genuine people about faith, about food, about culture, about my conversion journey — even got to chat Hebrew name choices with a delightful group of new gal pals!” added the Nashville native.

“The highlight of today (though there are SO many choices!) was receiving an invitation to celebrate Shabbat with some of our new friends — the #kosherpalooza family is warm, welcoming, and inviting, and I love them all.”

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