Monday, January 20, 2020

The beautiful and sunny Sunday made Ahavas Achim’s first-ever barbecue cook-off and street fair a “must-do” event in Highland Park. Members of the local Jewish community (and many from further afield) joined with other area residents in making the event a huge success.

There was plenty of room to accommodate visitors, with the shul parking lot turned into a food court and the adjacent street and front yard arranged as a pedestrian mall and entertainment complex. Young children enjoyed the bounce house while people of all ages took advantage of the opportunity to toss current and former shul presidents and board members into a dunk tank. There was a booth for face painting and sand art; a classic and antique car display; vendors of jewelry, hats, gourmet chocolates, modest clothing, scarves, Jewish books and gifts and much more. The Highland Park Fire Department brought a fire truck while the Highland Park First Aid Squad had an ambulance on display. A classic and antique car display featured an iconic 1914 Model T Ford with which visitors to the fair took photos.

Adding to the festivities, Kol Yehudim/1640 WJPR Radio ran a live broadcast from the fair, featuring a blend of popular Jewish music and a special running commentary of highlights of the event.

The front of the food court featured a food truck featuring southern barbecue, gourmet coffee and Rita’s ices, and local restaurant Sushiana had a table with several of their popular menu items.

The back of the parking lot featured teams competing for the title of “Congregation Ahavas Achim Official Pitmaster,” as well as selections for “Best Burger,” “Best Short Rib” and Best Chicken Wings” as judged by a panel of celebrity judges that included Yosef Mutterperl from Southside Sandwich Shop, Michael Kornblum from Sushiana, Rebecca Hersh from Main Street Highland Park, and Highland Park Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler.

Event attendees were able to purchase a chicken wing sampler of each of the entrant’s offerings and vote for their favorite one. Entrants started their barbecue on individual grills in the early morning, and the special aroma wafted over the area and got everyone in the mood for serious eating.

Joel and Florence Zevin of Highland Park came out to support their synagogue, have some good barbecue for lunch and enjoy the beautiful weather. Matt and Miriam Gross came out with their son, Akiva, to try something new, having seen it announced in the bulletin of their synagogue.

The idea of the street fair grew out of the concept of creating a kosher alternative for the popular “food truck fairs.” The shul wanted to bring in a number of kosher vendors from throughout the tri-state area as well as some local eateries to give patrons a fun and interesting culinary experience. As planning began it expanded to become a full-fledged street fair to give patrons a full day of activity, with food and fun for all ages. A team led by Ahavas Achim member Rob Haarburger began planning in January and continued refining and revising plans until the day of the event.

One of the things that was most surprising was the positive feedback the team received leading up to the event from people outside of the greater Highland Park community. Numerous people reached out from different communities in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania looking for information and/or assistance in getting transportation to the event.

Haarburger said that the money raised had not been earmarked for anything specific, allowing it to be used for the shul where it is most needed. While the committee is still in “wrap-up mode” from this year, they would love to build on the success and potentially make this a regular event. From the way people enjoyed themselves, it would seem the community would like that as well.

By Deborah Melman