(New York Jewish Week) — Last week, Adeena Sussman had been gearing up for a Chelsea Market stop on her tour promoting her new cookbook, “Shabbat,” which she’d traveled from her home in Tel Aviv to the United States to launch.
But after Hamas attacked Israel on Saturday morning, that didn’t feel right. “There was no way I was going to do an event built around me at a time like this,” Sussman said.
So she and Rachel Simons, the owner and founder of tahini brand Seed + Mill, who had been planning to host the signing, joined forces with members of the Jewish Food Society, a non-profit organization that celebrates Jewish culinary heritage from around the world, to plan a different sort of event.
The result, what they called a “community hug and bake sale,” brought dozens of Jewish food influencers and their followers and friends to a Chelsea Market event space on Wednesday. Even though the event wasn’t advertised widely out of security concerns, the line to enter stretched down the block as attendees pledged donations to ASIF, the Jewish Food Society’s partner organization in Tel Aviv where staff have been preparing meals for displaced families and hospital workers in Israel.
Donations were traded for yellow tickets which then could be redeemed inside for treats, sweets, cookbooks and swag. The tables were manned for the most part by food influencers themselves.
New York Times bestselling cookbook author Jake Cohen baked and brought 100 of his signature date-studded brownies. Restaurateur Einat Admony, whose falafel shops Taim were an early arrival to the city’s Israeli food scene, stood behind towers of her cookbooks while selling cupcakes donated by BCakeNY.
Food blogger Chanie Apfelbaum was toting hawaij gingersnaps that had come out of the oven just moments before she had to head to the sale. She’d barely had time to bake but said she made room for one more activity because of the pain she felt in the wake of the attack, which left thousands of Israelis dead, wounded and held captive.
“I felt like I had to be part of this,” Apfelbaum said. “I had to see people and be amongst the food community.”
Lior Lev Sercarz, who recently opened La Boite, a spice atelier, had his books and spices on hand. And the team at Seed + Mill prepared and distributed 100 tahini brownies, a recipe from Sussman’s previous cookbook, “Sababa,” a celebration of Israeli cuisine.
“Food is obviously really important to us as a culture and as a nation,” said Chaya Rappoport, the Jewish Food Society’s culinary manager, who came up with the bake sale concept. “Food helps people connect in times of happiness and times of sorrow and times when we need to come together. … Everybody pitched in on a moment’s notice.”
About 400 people attended the bake sale, raising $27,000 for ASIF’s relief work. The first donations would support 2,000 meals for families who have evacuated to Eilat, in Israel’s south, the Jewish Food Society said.
Max Aronson, who works at local restaurant Carbone, said he came because he has friends and family in Israel. Columbian cookbook author and food stylist Mariana Velasquez came to show support for Jewish Food Society’s founder Naama Shefi and the Jewish community.
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And Maria Zalewska, editor of the cookbook “Honey Cake & Latkes,” a compilation of recipes from survivors of Auschwitz, was there, too. Since the war began, Zalewska has been reaching out and checking up on the Holocaust survivors featured in her book to see how they are. “Most of them have expressed to me that they are experiencing PTSD on steroids,” she said.
Zalewska had planned to attend Sussman’s book signing when she received an invitation to the book sale — along with an exhortation to keep its location and existence a secret.
“I think it is horrifically sad that this event needs to be private, and we can’t talk about it on social media for security reasons,” said Zalewska. “It is a reflection of the scary time that we are in.”
The event felt to her like the “community hug” it was planned to be.
“A lot of people, especially non-Jews, feel helpless and they don’t know what to do,” Zalewska said. “This gives people an opportunity to donate a little bit of money, come together and show their allegiance to the Israelis and their Jewish friends.”
Simons said the bake sale is only the first effort by a local Jewish food community; further planning, she said, “is ongoing.”
Already, Ben Siman-Tov, who goes by BenGingi, is collaborating with Breads Bakery to make heart-shaped challahs to raise money for Magen David Adom, Israel’s version of the Red Cross. New York Shuk, which makes Middle Eastern pantry staples, is donating 100% of its proceeds this month to Israeli children who have lost parents in the attack and subsequent conflict. And Miznon, the chain of restaurants operated by Israeli chef Eyal Shani, is inviting customers to round up their purchases with a donation toward humanitarian aid in Israel.
Simons said she found catharsis in the bake sale event. It “was about solidarity, support and our community’s mental health,” she said. “I hugged and cried with friends and strangers — Jews and non-Jews alike.”
Gadi Peleg, founder and owner of Breads, a local bakery chain with roots in Tel Aviv, learned about the event a day earlier and, along with Yonatan Floman, Breads’ CEO, donated the bakery’s flaky black-and-white cookies for the sale.
“Word got around the Israeli hospitality community very quickly,” Peleg said. “Israelis do better when they are not given too much time. This is where we shine. We put stuff together quickly and get it done.”