OCTOBER 19, 2017 – On a recent Sunday, more than a dozen people stood in line outside the B’nai B’rith food booth at the Topsfield Fair. Most stared at the menu, which would bring a smile to most deli aficionados.
Fifty-six years ago, the booth began with a modest offering of Hebrew National hot dogs and sodas. These days, fair-goers could still buy a kosher hot dog at the booth, but there were dozens of other items, none kosher. Choices included a bagel smeared with cream cheese and topped with lox, a burger, knish, a wedge of kugel, chicken fingers, matzah ball soup, or a hot pastrami or brisket sandwich.
Jewish demographic experts have numerous theories about strengthening Jewish communities, but it appears that the 121 people who volunteered at the B’nai B’rith booth this year have created their own formula regarding Jewish continuity, and their relationships revolve around the common goal of serving a plate of food that will satisfy even the hungriest.
“We had a record-breaking year,” explained Marc Freedman, who first volunteered at the food stand in 1979 when he was 14, and now serves as the booth’s general manager. “We strive to have the lowest price at the fair with the largest portions, and of course, the best service.”
Under the organization’s “L’Chaim for the Jewish Community Program,” all of the profits go to Jewish organizations, with $6,000 sent to temples and Jewish groups north of Boston. Over the fair’s 11 days, 270 shifts are created – the booth is open at least 12 hours a day – and for each four – to five-hour shift volunteers work, $18 is donated to the Jewish charity of their choice. In addition, volunteers receive free fair admission and parking, and are allowed to eat all the food they wish during their shifts.
This year, Freedman added a new wrinkle to the menu: the Oy Vey Sandwich. It begins with a bulkie roll, with a layer of warm brisket. The second tier consists of hot pastrami, and it’s then topped with a potato latke and finished with a scoop of chili. The top of the bulkie is then applied, with a toothpick to hold the Oy Vey together, and is served on a plate with a dill pickle.
The Oy Vey immediately became a hit with patrons this month, and workers developed a formal procedure that paid reverence to the sandwich. After a person ordered the Oy Vey, the cashier yelled out “One Oy Vey Sandwich,” and then all of the workers in the booth responded together in a sing-songy tone, “Oy Vey.” When the sandwich was prepared, another worker would say, “Oy Vey Sandwich Going Out,” and the group again responded, “Oy Vey.” As the sandwich was slid through the cashier’s window, Freedman lofted his shofar, and let go with a long blast.
Freedman, a novice shofar blower, picked up the ram’s horn right before the fair this year and thought it might be a good addition to the Oy Vey. Since then, he’s worked on his shofar-blowing-style.
“I do a whole bunch of things now,” he said, “and at some point someone will yell out ‘tekia gedola’ and I’ll see how long I can do it for.”
– Steven A. Rosenberg