A taste of Morocco: Jewish Food Festival slated for Sunday

November 17, 1998

Morrocan foodBy KATE COLEMAN / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

Risa Strauss learned to make hummus, couscous and lamb stew during her eight years on an Israeli kibbutz near Tel Aviv, and she'll be preparing these Moroccan dishes for the Jewish Food Festival Sunday, Nov. 22.

The festival begins at noon and will last until about 3 p.m. in the synagogue social hall at 53 E. Baltimore St. in Hagerstown. It's the 20th annual festival sponsored by the sisterhood of Congregation B'Nai Abraham.

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The festival is an interfaith project between the congregation and the Christian community, says Carol Mendelsohn, publicity chairwoman for the event. Hundreds of people stop - some on their way home from church - to sample a wide array of traditional Jewish cuisine, including beef brisket, chicken soup, matzo balls, potato knishes, stuffed cabbage and cheese blintzes.


Mendelsohn will bake Linzer tarts - raspberry-filled cookies.

"Everyone bakes their specialty. Everybody does their own mother's thing," she says.

All food at the festival will be available a la carte and served cafeteria style. The event benefits Congregation B'Nai Abraham's religious school, which numbers 70 students from age 3 to 15 or 16, according to Debra Schepp, principal.

Visitors can tour the synagogue, and Rabbi Janice Garfunkel will be on hand to open the ark and show how the Torah, the scroll of the first five books of the Old Testament, is read.

This year's festival is the first for Strauss and her husband, Bill Strauss, who moved to Hagerstown in July. They grew up in Flushing, Queens, N.Y., and met in a Zionist youth group while in high school. Bill Strauss, a geologist, is the son of a Holocaust survivor.

Risa Strauss finished her degree in Middle Eastern studies at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 1984. "I was going to change the world and make peace," she says.

In January 1987, the couple "made aliyah" - the phrase for moving to Israel. Everyone worked on the kibbutz, a communal settlement. Bill Strauss worked in the settlement's glue factory and kitchen, helping to prepare food for the 250 residents. Risa Strauss directed the preschool and took her turn milking the cows. Moroccan fare was readily available because many of the people in the area had emigrated from neighboring Arab countries.

"To be an American in another country is an exciting thing. We became special," says Risa Strauss.

But the couple also experienced the region's terrors. A paper bag left in the street would result in a call to the bomb squad. The Strausses were in Israel during the Gulf War. Sirens warning of incoming missiles alerted the couple to place their baby - too small for a gas mask - in an oxygen tent. Their windows were taped shut, and although they weren't hit, they could hear the explosions and feel the earth shake.

Risa and Bill Strauss and their Jerusalem-born children Ariel, 9, and Benjy, 5, returned to America in 1995. They moved from Detroit to Hagerstown to be closer to family.

Risa Strauss brought back seasonings, Middle Eastern recipes and many memories of her time in Israel.

"There's something about it ... thousands of years of history," she muses. The light shining off the walls of the city of Jerusalem is like no other, she says.

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