Teaching kosher culture in the kitchen

Thursday July 19, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Taste tradition with a cold, sour crunch. The kosher dill pickle has been for the past century synonymous with American Jewish culture, since it arrived in New York from the shtetls of Easteru Europe, and at Chabad of the Berkshires this Sunday, the public is invited to relish the hands-on power of pickle-making.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Rabbi Mendy Mar golin's Traveling Kosher Pickle Factory comes to the Pittsfield organization for two workshops. Called "Pickle Uni versity" by the New York Daily News, the teaching series began with Margolin's wife's cousin, Shmuel Marcus, in 2005, after a California pickle maker that Mar cus knew gave him his recipe and suggested he spread it to others.

Seven years later, more than 7,000 people have taken the class to feel closer to the spirit of their culture and learn the history of the kosher dietary tradition, Margolin said.

"We look at kosher in a positive light during these presentations," he said. "We talk about kosher pickles, the laws of ko sher. We talk about each ingredient, and each ingredient has a different lesson."

What makes a pickle "kosher" is a matter of some dispute, Margolin said: Some argue that it's the lack of vinegar -- the pickles get their sourness from fermenting in brine -- and others say it's the infusion of garlic.

From his research, Margolin speculates that the designation stems from the use of kosher salt, the large crystals that Jewish law stipulates is necessary to kosherize meat and chicken.

The pickle workshop is an example of a key part of the Chabad-Lubavitch tradition: The branch of Hasidic Judaism aims to reach out to other Jews to help them identify more strongly with their Jewishness. Before he was pushing pickles, Margolin taught shofar making, matzo baking and olive oil pressing to make religious holidays come alive for other Jews.

Rabbi Levi Volovik, director of Chabad of the Berkshires, said he wanted to bring the Traveling Pickle Factory to his organization because food helps people connect viscerally with Jewish tradition.

"Who could possibly forget kosher pickles out of the lower East Side at the turn of the last century?" Volovik said. "I believe that traditions and values, and especially the food component, leave a very strong impression in our connection to our Jewish values and our Jewish pride."

Kosher pickles, he added, are another vector for staying close to the Jewish history that in other ways many people have left behind in the modern era.

"We have to hold onto those things and pass (them) on to the generations," he said.

Those who attend the workshop with the Pickle Rabbi, as Margolin is known, will walk away from the workshop with a jar of their own pickles, which will be pickled and ready to eat in about a week's time.

Admission includes all the cucumbers, salts and spices necessary to make the magic happen, ingredients that Margolin brings with him wherever he goes.

"It's a lot of schlepping," Margolin said.

What: ‘The Art of Kosher Pickle Making,' workshop with Rabbi Mendy Margolin, the ‘Pickle Rabbi'

When: Two talks, 10 a.m.
and 11:30 a.m. on Sunday

Where: Chabad of the Berkshires, 450 South St., Pittsfield

Admission: $15 in advance
or $20 at the door,
includes one jar of pickles.

Information: Reservations
or (413) 499-9899

Who could
possibly forget kosher pickles out of the lower East Side at the turn of the last century?

-- Rabbi Levi Volovik,
director of Chabad
of the Berkshires


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