A fish story to get hooked on
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A fish story to get hooked on

Netivot Shalom serves up a herring festival with more than just matjes

The Bergen County Herring Festival at Teaneck’s Congregation Netivot Shalom offers a smorgasbord of classics as well as new-wave sauces and flavors.
The Bergen County Herring Festival at Teaneck’s Congregation Netivot Shalom offers a smorgasbord of classics as well as new-wave sauces and flavors.

Can a fish evoke emotion? You betcha!

I remember how my father carefully cut pieces of the glistening bony fish and placed them in a bath of oil and onion, stored in glass jars in the refrigerator. Each evening when he started his meal, he would take a piece and eat it with rye toast. He looked forward to it with such pleasure, that “shtickel” (piece) of herring.

Without it, his dinner wouldn’t be the same.

Herring, at once evocative and provocative, brings back old world memories for some, and new connections for others.

For herring aficionados and the newly curious, the 2018 Bergen County Herring Festival, a much-anticipated event that has spawned imitators, will take place on Saturday, December 15, at Congregation Netivot Shalom in Teaneck. The biennial festival (actually it has been three years since the last one) is a fundraiser for the synagogue and for a local nonprofit. This year, the festival will benefit the Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Northern New Jersey.

“The biennial herring festival held at Netivot Shalom is an event that brings together many diverse groups of people both from within and without our Bergen County area,” said Nathaniel Helfgot, the Orthodox synagogue’s rabbi. He favors “a really good smooth plain and simple matjes herring on a cracker,” he said.

“We come together to share some delectable treats and to share in the warmth and hospitality that are the hallmarks of the Netivot Shalom community,” Rabbi Helfgot continued. “In the process, we also help raise some funds for the shul programming as well as donate a portion of the proceeds to a local tzedakah.”

More than 100 pounds of herring, in a dizzying array of classic and newfangled flavors from purveyors including Ma’adan Catering in Teaneck, Rockland Kosher Supermarket in Monsey, and Raskin’s Fish Market in Brooklyn, will be available to sample. Expect to find classics like a variety of matjes herring as well as herrings in new-wave sauces like mustard, wasabi, and other creative spins.

It will be possible to pair specialty fish with the selection of premium vodkas and single-malt scotches that will be on hand. There also will be breads, fingerling potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, pickled beets, salmon roe, and other victuals that fit with the theme.

“It’s a nice social evening with good food, good drink, good music and good friends,” said Barry Herzog, one of the three organizers — the other two are Noah Rothblatt and Shanan Cohen.

This year’s Bergen County Herring Festival is the fifth such event. The first once was in 2009; the festival has grown in both scope and popularity since then. It grew out of a typical Shabbat kiddush, which Netivot Shalom congregant Jonny Shore helped set up each week. Mr. Shore started bringing in a variety of herrings he found when he worked on the Lower East Side. The festival itself was born after he and his friends learned about an upscale herring tasting at a Manhattan penthouse by appetizing icon Russ and Daughters.

With that inspiration — and their love of all things herring — they figured why not create an elegant herring tasting in Bergen County?

As the new owner of Ma’adan, Mr. Shore, who has switched from herring festival organizer to herring festival provider, said that a new flavor will be unveiled at this year’s festival. (He didn’t say what it would be, but hinted that it would be savory.) In addition, Ma’adan will bring its popular matjes with scallions, Tex-Mex, and other favorites.

“Herring has become quite mainstream,” Mr. Shore said. “There are many people who appreciate a good herring. Here at Ma’adan you can buy herring, and walk in to see the people who made it,” he said referring to former Ma’adan owner, Stuart Kahan, whom he called “the herring maestro.”

One of the event organizers, Mr. Shanan, who at 33 and the group’s millennial member, said he first was introduced to the herring festival in 2011, when he attended with his father-in-law, Elliot Fuld, who lives in Englewood. Since moving to Teaneck in 2014, Mr. Cohen has become very involved in the synagogue, and with the herring festival.

Herring, Mr. Cohen said, is a great connector.

“You meet people at the herring table that you wouldn’t normally engage with otherwise because people tend to stay with people their own age and in their life stage,” he said. “But at the herring table, there are people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s. The interest in herring spans the generations.”

“People have been waiting three years for this,” Mr. Rothblatt added.

The herring festival starts at 8 p.m. at Congregation Netivot Shalom, 811 Palisade Ave., Teaneck. The cost is $55 per person in advance or $75 at the door. There is more information at www.netivotshalomnj.org/herring.

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