Food For Thought

By Amy Kaufman

A lightbulb will go off in the minds of Portlanders when the Food for Thought Festival launches on April 18.

The four-day, multi-faceted celebration is based on an explosive new idea that brings people together under a huge tent of citywide events while uniting them in the fight against hunger in Oregon. Each participant is asked to bring a donation of nonperishable food for the Oregon Food Bank. Presented by the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, the Festival is unique in federation history and is perhaps the first of its kind in the nation. “For the first time as a Jewish community, we are collecting food on a grand scale,” says Marc Blattner, CEO and president of JFGP. “There are no proceeds, no rais- ing of money. This event is paid for by the Jewish Federation and its generous sponsors.”

The star-studded program with its inspiring purpose has attracted major media coverage, and KGW TV, The Oregonian and 101.9 KINK FM have signed on as media presenting sponsors. Legendary Jewish comedians, internationally renowned physicians, award-winning chefs and famous authors have donated their time and talent to produce an event aimed at ameliorating food insecurity in a state where the rate of child hunger is among the highest in the nation. The galvanizing event is also designed “to inspire Jews and non-Jews throughout the community to participate, to experience, to meet others with shared interests,” says Blattner. “We don’t know of any other Jewish community that has done a four-day outreach engagement event where people can intersect at so many points.”

From the Opening Night Celebration with world-class comedians David Steinberg and David Javerbaum to the jam-packed closing day, culminating in a multimedia celebration of Israel’s 65th year of independence, the Food for Thought Festival takes a creative approach to every theme. At this smorgasbord of events, people can partake of anything that piques their interest: comedy, health, politics, books, food, filmmaking, art, music, dance, theater, lectures and discussions, walking tours, special synagogue services – often combined in unexpected ways. (For full schedule, see page 33 in this issue or visit FoodForThoughtPDX.org.)

Getting Steinberg, Javerbaum and award-winning Oregonian columnist David Sarasohn together for “The Wisdom of the Davids” is a major coup; this evening of comedy will explore how today’s news is affected by humor. Steinberg is an Emmy Award-winning director of “Seinfeld,” “Friends,” “Mad About You,” “Weeds” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Javerbaum, a best-selling author and winner of 11 Emmy Awards, was head writer and executive producer of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” A gala cocktail supper for patrons will precede the performance at the Portland Art Museum.

At a Jewish event in a city known for cuisine, can food be far behind? You can join celebrity chef Giuliano Hazan of the “Today Show” in cooking and consuming a convivial meal, sample the delicacies of Portland’s food carts on a guided tour or attend a seriously silly debate about the merits of Hanukkah’s tasty latkes versus Purim’s hamantaschen. Fittingly, the keynote speaker for “Limmud PDX: An Extraordinary Learning Experience” is Stephen Trachtenberg, president emeritus and professor of public service at The George Washington University, who is also a prominent attorney and author known for his transformational work in higher education. Those of an intellectual bent can choose from 14 breakout sessions on topics ranging from “The Psychology of Modern Racism” with psychologist Friderike Heuer to “A Look at Oregon’s Death with Dignity Law: One Jewish Physician’s Perspective” with oncologist Jeff Menashe.
The electrifying idea for the Festival was born when Cheryl Tonkin, a Portland marketing and communication executive, won JFGP’s Next Great Jewish Idea contest in 2011.

“I was inspired to enter the contest because I thought that in an area of so much bounty, no family should ever have to choose between having food on the table and buying medicine or paying the rent,” she says. “The question was how to tackle this problem. I thought of the New Yorker festival and the terrific lectures, discussions and events I’d attended, and it occurred to me that you could create a festival that appealed to widely varied inter- ests and have it also be a mega food drive – food for thought for those who attend while also meeting the challenge of providing food for people in need.”

The long list of prestigious sponsors and partners from within and outside the Jewish community attests to the compelling nature of the event. Heading the list is Presenting Sponsor Ed Tonkin, vice president of Ron Tonkin Dealerships. He was recruited by his cousin Cheryl to co-chair the event. Ed says he was astounded to learn, on a tour of Oregon Food Bank, that 29% of children in Oregon suffer from food insecurity. “I didn’t have any idea of the scale, the magnitude. And I think most people don’t know that. Before you can think about how to address a problem, you have to know that the problem exists.”

“There are 270,000 people monthly who eat out of an emergency food box, and one-third of them are children,” says Laura Golino De Lovato, director of development, marketing and communications at Oregon Food Bank. “The slow recovery from the recession is still having an impact on us. … There are still people out there who have not found employment, who are dealing with the loss of their jobs or the loss of housing. … We see a continued challenge to raise food donations and cash donations.” “Instead of having a single theme and maybe reaching one group of people, the Festival appeals to the broadest spectrum of the community,” says Cheryl. “Creating such an eclectic and vibrant celebration will create the broadest possible awareness of the challenge posed by food insecurity and truly make a differ- ence in meeting it.”

This gargantuan undertaking is running on the energy of nearly 150 volunteers who have contributed thousands of hours, according to Cheryl. Their talents, programming ideas and con- nections have enabled the Festival to blossom. “We want to thank our sponsors – they’ve been really tremendous,” says Cheryl. “They’re making it possible to do this, and also our media sponsors. We’re getting free advertising through the media. Having that kind of promotional sponsor- ship is really going to build awareness of the Festival.”

Ed says Powell’s Books helped to engage the authors, who will speak from the bookstore’s stages throughout the city. The Festival is hosting talks and book signings by two of its featured celebrities – comic David Javerbaum and chef Giuliano Hazan. Yael Kohen, whose new book explores the connection of humor to “appropriate” female behavior, and best-selling novelist Amy Ephron will also speak.
Not to be forgotten is the proud tradition of Yiddish literature, which will be represented in the Jewish Theatre Collaborative’s performance of “Naftali, Story Voyager on the Yiddish Sea,” based on the stories of Nobel Prize-winner Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Oregon Public Broadcasting’s acclaimed radio show “Live Wire!” will bring to the Festival a live performance dedicated to film, from script to screen. Held in Northwest Film Center’s theater in Whitsell Auditorium at the Portland Art Museum, the show features regular cast members, interviews with screenwriter Mike Rich and filmmaker Amy Ephron, a special segment on film scoring and more.

As doors open all over the city, synagogues will extend a special welcome to Festival-goers with innovative Shabbat programming such as “Why I Became Jewish: Three Converts Share Their Stories” at Congregation Kesser Israel, “Exploring Judaism’s Commands to Serve the Poor and the Stranger” at P’nai Or of Portland and “The American Jewish Discourse on Israel” with Robert Horenstein at Congregation Shaarie Torah. “From Farm Bill to Food Bill” is the topic of Congressman Earl Blumenauer’s talk at Congregation Beth Israel’s Shabbat service.

“We’ve worked very hard to make this a community-wide festival,” says Cheryl. “I think that’s what makes it so vibrant A major focus is to “make people aware of the Jewish community, to meet other people, to find out about opportunities, to gather and learn.” Before she entered the contest, Cheryl says “I felt that our community was pretty fragmented. And the one organization that could bring all the Jewish elements in our community together to do something is the federation, because it reaches across the spectrum.”

“I believe the Festival will demonstrate the power of com- munity,” says Blattner. “We recognize that the federation was known solely as a fund-raising organization. We are a community-building organization. We want to bring people into Jewish life however they want to participate. One vehicle was the annual campaign. But we also recognize people want to be entertained, meet people with common interests and learn. So we, the federation, are the convener to allow those types of interactions to happen. Through the Festival, we are reaching out to the community instead of bringing the community to us.”

Will this new idea revolutionize the concept of Jewish com- munity in Portland and beyond? “Our idea is that hopefully this will be a small sapling we plant that grows into an oak over the years,” says Ed Tonkin.

FESTIVAL SCHEDULE

THURSDAY, APRIL 18
Opening Night Celebration The Wisdom of Davids Wit and Conversation about Funny…Seriously featuring legendary comedian David Steinberg with David Javerbaum and David Sarasohn
Time: 7:30p-9p
Price: $35
Location: Portland Art Museum

FRIDAY, APRIL 19
Good Food for Good Health A conversation and continental breakfast with leading researcher Dr. Kent Thornburg
Time: 10a-11:30a
Price: $10
Location: Multnomah Athletic Club

Cook. Eat. Love.
A cooking demonstration and tasting with Giuliano Hazan
Time: 10a-Noon
Price: $75
Location: KitchenCru

Meet the Author: David Javerbaum
Talk and book signing of The Last Testament, A Memoir by God
Time: Noon-1:30p
Price: Free
Location: Powell’s City of Books
Meet the Author: Giuliano Hazan

Talk and book signing of Hazan Family Favorites: Beloved Italian Recipes
Time: 2p-3:30p
Price: Free
Location: Powell’s City of Books

Friday Evening Synagogue Services
Explore a new synagogue, participate in services and enjoy special programming for the Food for Thought Festival.

SATURDAY, APRIL 20
Saturday Morning Synagogue Services Explore a new synagogue, participate in services and enjoy special programming for the Food for Thought Festival.

Food for Art at Portland Art Museum
Time: 10a-5p
Price: Free w/donation
Location: Portland Art Museum

Food Cart Tour
Led by Steve Kantor and Owen Blank Time:11:30a-1p
Price: $25
Location: Division Street Food Pods

Meet the Author: Laurel Snyder – Reading and book signing of Good Night, Laila Tov picture book
Time: Noon-1:30p
Price: Free
Location: Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing

Tour of Oregon Food Bank With Jewish Family and Child Service
Time:1p-2p
Price: Free
Location: 7900 NE 33rd Drive

Meet the Author: Amy Ephron – Talk and book signing of Loose Diamonds…and other things I’ve lost (and found) along the way
Time: 1p-2:30p
Price: Free
Location: Powell’s City of Books

Israeli Folk Dance Festival – 40th Anniversary Celebration
Time: 1:30p-Midnight Location: Mittleman Jewish Community Center

Alphabet District Walking Tour
Time: 2p-3:30p
Price: $5
Location: Starting at Oregon Jewish Museum

Meet the Author: David Michael Slater – Talk and book signing of Sacred Books 01: The Book of Nonsense, for teens
Time: 2p-3:30p
Price: Free
Location: Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing

Meet the Author: Yael Kohen- Talk and book signing of We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy
Time: 3p-4:30p
Price: Free
Location: Powell’s City of Books

The Great Latke-Hamantaschen Debate Happy hour featuring celebrity debaters
Time:5p-7p
Price: $5
Location: The Cleaners at Ace Hotel

Live Wire! Goes to the Movies with Northwest Film Center
Time: 8p
Price: $12
Location: Whitsell Auditorium,Portland Art Museum

Stand Up Comedy
Time: 10p
Location: Helium Comedy Club

SUNDAY, APRIL 21
Limmud* PDX: An Extraordinary Learning Experience A morning of learning featuring keynote Stephen Trachtenberg and a selection of Portland’s most thought-provoking speakers. Box lunch included.
Time: 9:30a-1:30p
Price: $5
Location: Mittleman Jewish Community Center

Get Your Yiddish On
A day celebrating Yiddish authors presented by Jewish Theater Collaborative
Time: 11a and 5p
Location: Theater! Theatre!

High School Students Engage Oregon State Policy Makers on Climate Change, Sustainability and Their Shared Future
Sponsored by Congregation Shir Tikvah, presented by Jason Eisdorfer
Time:2p-3p
Price: Free
Location: Theater! Theatre!

Israeli Independence Day Celebration
Time: 5p-9p
Price: Free
Location: Mittleman Jewish Community Center

ONGOING
“Lan Su in Bloom!” A celebration of spring at Lan Su Chinese Garden Thursday, April 18 thru Sunday, April 21
Time: 10a-6p
Price: $5 w/donation

“Annual Bonsai Exhibition” at the Portland Japanese Garden Saturday, April 20 thru Sunday, April 21
Time: 10a-6p
Price: Membershipdiscount w/donation

Amy Kaufman is a freelance writer and book editor in Portland.

 

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