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When Danya Cheskis-Gold quit her job at a startup in April, she started to look for ways to connect with others outside of a bustling office. “One of the first things that came to me was Pop-Up Shabbat,” she said. Growing up in a Conservadox home, Cheskis-Gold says, her family had an open-door policy for Shabbat meals, where friends and neighbors were always welcome.
Having stepped back from observance for several years in her 20s, she wanted to find a way to rediscover her roots.
“The things I connect to most in the Jewish community are food and friends,” she explained. For the past few years she has periodically hosted Shabbat dinners for up to 40 friends in her Brooklyn apartment, but she wanted to experiment with something larger that was accessible to others Jews like her, who are passionate about Shabbat, and to non-Jews who are curious about the rituals that go along with it.
On a balmy Friday evening in mid-July, she hosted her first pop-up, dubbed ShaBubbe, on the second floor of an old home near Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal that has been converted into an office.
The sunlit room, with a kitchen at one end and long wooden tables stylishly set, could have easily been mistaken as the site of a trendy invite-only Brooklyn dinner without any Jewish connection. But touches like freshly baked rosemary garlic challah rolls and bowls of ruby-colored borscht prepared by The Gefilteria provided culinary touchstones for guests with Ashkenazi roots.
Sandwiched between the soup course and a dessert of macaroons were several classic Persian dishes: Cornish hen roasted with dried limes and yellow squash; crispy Persian rice bespeckled with coriander seeds; beef and lentil-stuffed onions with mint and tarragon. The aroma of the dishes was intoxicating and unmistakable as I walked into the room. “[Melanie Shurka] cooks this food because of her Persian identity,” Cheskis-Gold explained of the evening’s guest chef. “It’s so different than the food from my Jewish grandmother in Queens, but this is how we think of our identity.”
While tradition is important to Cheskis-Gold and to all the hosts, Jewish food in the pop-up era is about innovation and reinterpreting tradition. At her next Shabbat dinner, slated for October, she plans to focus on soul food.
“In my dream world it will be outdoors in a backyard, and I already locked down a DJ who’s worked with Beyonce. He’s half Caribbean and African American. I would love to have a Jewish deli partner and serve okra kugel.”