Shanan Cohen of Teaneck didn’t grow up liking herring at all. He grew up in San Antonio, Texas. “Herring wasn’t something that was at the kiddush table,” he said.
In 2011, his father-in-law, Elliot Fuld, who lives in Englewood, brought him to the Bergen County Herring Festival at Teaneck’s Congregation Netivot Shalom. “It was just fun; it was a social gathering where you got to try different foods,” Mr. Cohen said. That was his first introduction to the spicy varieties. “Paired with the good crackers, those varieties provide a lot of different flavors in each bite.” After sampling them at some of the more recent festivals, honey mustard and wasabi have both become favorites.
“At a normal kiddush, there might be a couple of flavors of herring, and that’s it,” Mr. Cohen continued. “The festival was a way for me to meet other people and just hang out while trying different foods and drinking some tasty drinks.”
The Bergen County Herring Festival is a celebration of all things herring and is enjoyed by aficionados and newcomers alike. It also serves as a fundraiser for the synagogue and for a local organization. The 2022 festival will take place on Saturday, December 17, at Congregation Netivot Shalom. (See box.)
The festival was held for the first time in 2009. Barry Herzog, one of the organizers, had read a New Yorker article about a herring festival hosted by the restaurant Aquavit in Manhattan. “I was chatting about it with friends, and we thought it would be great to do something like that in Teaneck,” he said. Since then, it’s taken place every two or three years — until covid paused it for four. The last one was in 2019. Herring lovers have been waiting a long time.
When he moved to Teaneck in 2014, Mr. Cohen joined Netivot Shalom in part because of the 2011 festival. “The event got me in the door, and I had met some great people so when I moved to the area, I went back to visit,” he said. He helped its veteran organizers, Mr. Herzog and Noah Rothblatt, coordinate the 2018 festival and he learned the ropes. This year, Mr. Herzog and Mr. Rothblatt still are involved but Mr. Cohen is sharing more of the planning with them.
The fishmongers at Netivot this year will be Teaneck’s Ma’adan, Rockland Kosher of Monsey, and Raskin’s of Brooklyn. About 15 to 20 different flavors of herring will be featured, including cream-based, spicy, and matjes varieties. The buffet also will feature foods traditionally served with herring, including fresh breads, hard boiled eggs, potatoes, beets and salmon.
And there will be fine vodkas and single-malt scotches on hand to pair with the fish.
“One of the things I’ve always liked about herring is that it spans the generations –- kugel and cholent do that too, but herring has a little bit more of a flair to it,” Mr. Cohen said. “At the herring table, you can meet people of all different generations. You’re always tasting some different flavor with somebody else. It’s a quick way to start up a conversation and meet people you would not necessarily have talked to otherwise.”
The local organization that will benefit from this year’s festival is CSS –- that’s Community Security Service, the organization that trains volunteers in security techniques. The volunteers help protect many local synagogues, including Netivot Shalom. CSS is very helpful to the community, Mr. Cohen explained. “With the rising antisemitism and security concerns we’ve seen across the country, having CSS volunteers at our shul each week brings comfort and feelings of safety.”
This year’s festival is scheduled for one of the longest post-Shabbat Saturday nights of the year, and is open to the entire community, Mr. Cohen said. “It’s a nice opportunity to enjoy tasty herring, listen to some good music, and socialize.”
What: The 2022 Bergen County Herring Festival
When: Saturday, December 17, 8:30 – 11 p.m.
Where: Congregation Netivot Shalom in Teaneck
Cost: 1 ticket – $75, 2 tickets – $70 each, 3 or more tickets – $65 each
Register at: www.netivotshalomnj.org/herring