CARMEL VALLEY >> For longtime Congregation Beth Israel organizer Bee Epstein-Shepherd, Sunday's 27th annual Jewish Food Festival brought back memories of the very first festival, a relatively small affair with little more than a handful of food booths in the mid-1980s.
For 1-year-old Sofia Warrington, visiting the popular festival for the first time with her parents Samuel and Claudia, the bustling event will likely evoke memories of wafting aromas of the beef brisket sandwich her mom and dad shared, the lilting tones of a klezmer group performing on the stage, and a crowd of people soaking up the sun while wandering among the arts and crafts booths.
Sofia's parents stopped off at the festival, which drew a line of cars up and down Carmel Valley Road and scores more parked at the Carmel Valley Middle School shuttle lot, for a sample of the cuisine on their way to and from work, deciding the traffic it regularly draws made it worth a visit.
"It's the sun and the food," Samuel Warrington said. "And a brisket sandwich. This is great."
From festival veterans to newcomers, and everyone in-between, the Jewish Food Festival drew another 3,000-plus attendees to the Carmel Valley event, which transforms CBI — as the congregants refer to it — into a giant Jewish delicatessen for a single day each August.
While much of the festival focuses on delicious Jewish favorites such as pastrami and corned beef sandwiches, chicken soup with matzo balls, latkes, knishes, rugelach, challah, kugel, and blintzes, as well as Middle Eastern fare including falafel and tabouli, and New York egg creams, it also continues a long-standing tradition as a community education outreach effort, offering area residents a glimpse into Jewish culture and religion.
"It started out as a cultural event to help the Monterey Peninsula understand Jewish culture," Festival co-chairwoman Rena Feuerstein said. "Now it's cultural outreach-plus."
Rabbi Bruce Greenbaum offered visitors a tour of the CBI sanctuary, complete with a brief overview of Judaism, a look at the synagogue's sacred Torahs, and more.
The festival stage also featured a Jewish wedding reenactment, featuring Monterey attorney Hugo Gerstl as a rabbi in traditional garb, as well as live music from a trio of groups.
Outside, alongside the food booths, the festival featured a range of arts and crafts booths, as well as an information booth manned by Epstein-Shepherd and Natalie Jaffe-Sammet, sporting a cap adorned with "bubbie" on it - a Jewish colloquialism meaning grandmother.
Next door, Jim Sammet sat in a booth with a sign saying "We Support Israel" against a backdrop of the Israeli flag, emblazoned with the familiar Star of David.
Sammet said more people had been stopping by the booth this year because of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, and he said nearly everyone has expressed support, which he said has been echoed during pro-Israel rallies at Window on the Bay park the previous two Sundays.
Proceeds from the festival go to help fund CBI's religious school, including scholarships, and adult education programs, as well as Mazon, a Jewish food bank, according to Feuerstein, who said the event brings in as much as $55,000.
Jim Johnson can be reached at 726-4348.