When it came to choosing a speaker for their special gathering, the organizers of the Lion of Judah/Pomegranate event on Wednesday, March 30, had an “in” with a much-sought-after guest: Arthur Schwartz, celebrated cookbook author, teacher, and restaurant critic.
Schwartz is the brother of Andrea Alexander, the director of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey’s Women’s Philanthropy, the group hosting the event. He spoke a few years ago at its Opening Event, and now — with her on the staff — he readily agreed to come again.
The siblings grew up in Brooklyn in a family that was passionate about food. Their grandmother lived downstairs, and the kids would pop down to visit with her. Schwartz told NJ Jewish News in a phone interview this week he learned everything he could from his grandmother, and when he became a food writer — by 22, he was assistant food editor for Newsday — he methodically began recording her recipes.
Schwartz, whose latest book is Arthur Schwartz’s Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisited, told NJJN he learned not just from her, but from “many, many other grandmothers” from all kinds of backgrounds. “I still have lots of old lady friends,” he declared.
He is probably most widely known from his 13 years of daily broadcasts on WOR Radio, but Schwartz has also written five award-winning cookbooks, including Arthur Schwartz’s New York City Food: An Opinionated History with Legendary Recipes, named 2005 Cookbook of the Year. He is working on The Big Book of Southern Italian Food & Wine.
Schwartz also teaches cooking classes at major venues around New York City and in New Jersey and has a cooking school in Paestum, Italy, where about four times a year he conducts weeklong classes.
At “Savor an Evening with Women’s Philanthropy,” Schwartz said, he will show slides, exploring the nostalgia sites of Jewish American food — from the Catskills hotels to the beloved old restaurants of Brooklyn, and will discuss the growing array of kosher food stores in the Midwood/Kings Highway area, from Pomegranate supermarket to the small family-owned bakeries and delis.
He talks of that turf as if it were an extension of his kitchen. It almost is. One of his many activities is taking people — groups and individuals — on a kosher shopping tour of Brooklyn. For all his years as a restaurant critic for newspapers and radio, his heart, he said, is in home cooking, and he loves shopping for ingredients. “Restaurants are expensive,” he said. “Cooking at home, even with the best meats, doesn’t cost anything.”
‘Gratitude to inspiration’
The LOJ/Pomegranate event will be an opportunity for people to make their gift to the 2011 annual campaign. A Lion of Judah is a woman who makes a minimum gift of $5,000. A Pomegranate donor makes a minimum gift of $1,800.
The event is being organized by Lion of Judah cochairs Wendy Rosenberg and Joanie Schwarz, and Pomegranate cochairs Susan Cahn and Renee Krul.
In answer to an e-mailed question from NJJN, Schwarz likened the federation to “the United Way of Judaism.” She wrote, “Your gift goes to human beings all over the world. People in disasters such as the one in Japan are receiving our help now through the Joint” — the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee — “and Jews who are in need all over the world are receiving our help all the time.”
Cahn pointed out that in this economy “there are people more in need than we realize and often not whom one would expect.” She wrote, “Knowing that I am able to reciprocate is a comfort.”
Krul said she first got involved with federation out of appreciation for what it does in the local community, but once she became more active and learned more about the scope of its activities, “my motivation began to expand from gratitude to inspiration.”
“For me,” she said, “the mitzva of giving and helping our fellow Jews is the most powerful message any individual can express.”