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Slow-cooking staple inspires fast-moving game
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Slow-cooking staple inspires fast-moving game

Elizabeth man and his pals want the world to play ‘Cholent!’

Cholent, The Game! players, from left, Nechemia and Batsheva Kivelevitz, sisters of one of the game’s inventors, and a friend, Hirshel Hall, try their hand at the game.
Cholent, The Game! players, from left, Nechemia and Batsheva Kivelevitz, sisters of one of the game’s inventors, and a friend, Hirshel Hall, try their hand at the game.

The tag line on their website says it all: “You’ve tried the food. Now play the game.”

The food is cholent, that beloved staple of so many Shabbat lunches; the game is a creation of three old school friends, Elizabeth lawyer Chaim Kivelevitz and his partners, Benjy Kaplan and Kenny Rosenberg, all 27.

They have almost everything worked out and ready for a pre-Hanukka launch in the fall; now they just need the backing. To that end, they have featured the game on Kickstarter.com until the first week in September. The website hosts inventors, writers, and other entrepreneurs looking for investors.

Backers, Kivelevitz said, get a T-shirt, one of the first games, plus a cholent cookbook, featuring recipes culled from friends and family members. That includes his favorite, from Kaplan’s mother.

“Some people like the ingredients to stay distinct; I like it to get really homogenous, all mushed together,” he said.

Cholent, The Game! is essentially a card game: Each player gets a card with a different (simplified) recipe for cholent, the slow-cooking stew whose ingredients can include meat, beans, barley, potatoes, onions, and pretty much anything else brown and hearty.

Players race to procure the ingredients from the “shuk,” helped or hindered by an array of characters, including a rebbe, a bubbe, a schnorrer, and a golem. The first player to complete his Cholent Recipe is the winner. “Victory dances are optional, but recommended,” according to the official rules.

Though they have high hopes of reaching a general mass market, Kivelevitz is clear that the initial appeal of Cholent, the Game! will be to a Jewish audience.

There is a “total void,” he said, when it comes to Jewish-themed games. (Well, maybe not total: Boardgamegeek.com lists 25 Jewish-themed games, including Kosherland, Chutzpah, “Exodus: The Game of Passover,” and QuickShtick.)

Kivelevitz is a newly minted lawyer, working in Elizabeth and Manhattan. He graduated from Rutgers Law School two years ago, and it’s as if he can’t resist using that expertise, and his own entrepreneurial bent, to answer questions or appeals for help. “I’m always working things out for people or offering legal assistance,” he said. “Do you need any help — with traffic violations, or property tax appeals?

That’s how it was on an idle Shabbat afternoon last summer when Kivelevitz and his longtime buddy Kaplan decided to invent a game. “When Benjy said, ‘What kind of game?’ I looked around and saw the crockpot,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Let’s make a game about cholent.’”

Cholent wouldn’t strike many people as an obvious alternative to Monopoly or Scrabble, but Kivelevitz said they never doubted that this was an idea whose time had come. It took a lot of experimenting and another seven or eight months for the two of them and their third partner, Kenny Rosenberg — testing ideas on willing victims of various ages — to forge it into a playable game.

This is where their particular team chemistry comes in. While they have gone their separate ways as adults, the trio grew up together in Chicago and have remained close friends.

Kivelevitz, who moved to Elizabeth with his parents and sisters in 2006, has taken the lead on the business side, and worked out the legal steps to registering a game. Though this is the first game he’s been involved in creating, game-playing has been part of his life all along. He played with his parents and his brother and two sisters. “We’re all very competitive,” he said.

His mother, Deborah, has a similar double career path; she is a clinical psychologist and a maker of kosher chocolate. He helped her with the business and legal aspects of her business, he said, and learned a lot about good cooking.

Kaplan, who lives in Los Angeles, has a degree in communications and is writing sketch comedy for Improv Olympic West. With his verbal skill, he played a key role in creating the game, and marketing it. Rosenberg has a graduate degree in computer science; he designed their website — Cholentthegame.com — and he is their technology wiz.

What started out as a fun challenge on a Shabbat afternoon has grown into an ambitious vision. The three of them have registered a company, Epicure Games, ready to keep right on creating and marketing food-oriented fun, on-line and off.

“We’re going to take this as far as the market will let us go,” Kivelevitz declared.

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