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Food for a Cause


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Lior Lev Sercarz of La Boîte blending spices at the  American Friends of Rabin Medical Center fundraiser/ Courtesy AFRMC

The American Friends of Rabin Medical Center hosts a successful alternative fundraiser

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Rabbi Joshua Eli Plaut, PhD, executive director of the American Friends of Rabin Medical Center, was tired of the same old gala fundraiser dinners. He wanted something different, an event reflecting the spirit of peaceful coexistence, health, and friendship that animates the work of the Rabin Medical Center in Tel Aviv and its community of supporters. The outcome was in equal parts an award ceremony, party, food and wine tasting, book signing, and celebration of Israeli and Middle Eastern Cuisine.

Convened in the fashionable Crosby Street Hotel, guests were treated to Middle Eastern hors d'oeuvres and Israeli wines from Assaf and Kishor wineries were served alongside Italian and French selections. Meanwhile, chef and spice blender Lior Lev Sercarz of La Boîte delighted guests with individually-blended spice mixes.

After honoring the real-estate power-players as the AFRMC does each year, Dr. Plaut played the role of befuddled MC to the first Yitzhak Rabin Spice of Life Culinary Achievement Awards as co-organizer Gadi Peleg, the Israeli restauranteur of Breads Bakery and Nur fame, got on stage in jeans and a black t-shirt to introduce and kibbitz with the award recipients – filmmaker Roger Sherman, producer of the documentary In Search of Israeli Cuisine, celebrity chef Eyal Shani whose Miznon restaurant opened in New York earlier this year, and cookbook authors Jennifer Abadi and Louisa Shafia. The charming Omer and Reut Rabin, granddaughters of the late Yitzhak Rabin, handed the pomegranate-shaped awards to the recipients. Not leaving anybody out, the maker of the award statuettes, artist Oded Halahmy, was also welcomed on stage and thanked and Gadi Peleg was surprised with a certificate from Dr. Plaut at the closing of the ceremony.

The evening's honorees/ Courtesy AFRMC

Then, it was time for the battle of the fishes. For the main course, the event’s planners inexplicably chose three different red-sauced fish recipes from the award recipients: an Israeli chraime, fish in a tomato and red pepper sauce, by Eyal Shani (served along with Breads’ delicious challah to sop up the sauce), an Indian fish dish with curry, tamarind, ginger, garlic, and red chili pepper sauce by Jennifer Abadi, and a Persian Gulf-style spicy tamarind fish stew by Lousia Shafia. Guests circulated and socialized with small plates and wine glasses in hand in easy familiarity, some sat at the few chairs and couches. A guitar, drum, and bouzouki trio played lively Mediterranean tunes in Hebrew and Arabic, adding to the festive party atmosphere. Abadi and Shafia autographed giant piles of their cookbooks and conversed with curious guests about their respective culinary cultures. Guests walked away with swag bags filled with Nahmias et Fils mahia (fig liqueur), cookies by Jennifer Abadi, rugelach and babka from Breads, packets of Soom tahini, and harissa from NYShuk. A screening of In Search of Israeli Cuisine was held for anyone still hunting for more.

It was an evening that showcased just how big Israeli food in New York has become, notwithstanding the organizers’ nod at the broader Middle Eastern cuisine. Joining forces to benefit a good cause, the Israeli food community in New York showed itself to be not merely a trend to be noticed but an entire vibrant social scene, complete with its chefs, writers, filmmakers, restauranteurs, and entrepreneurs celebrating and being celebrated as celebrities in their own right. We were assured it was the first time, but not the last, this event will take place.

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