The long history of the Jewish people, when coupled with the dietary restrictions of their faith, has made for some very unique food influenced by the many different areas of the world in which they've lived. The Arkansas Festival pays homage to these varied influences, offering cabbage rolls and chopped liver from the Eastern European tradition along with falafel, hummus, and kabobs from the Middle Eastern and Israeli culinary traditions. That Israeli influence is even more poignant this year, as the festival will also serve as a celebration of Israel's 65th anniversary as a modern state.
My favorite thing at the Jewish Festival (apart from that chopped liver) is the mammoth table of baked goods which takes up most of one side of the River Market Pavilion. Rugelach, honey cakes, challah — you name it, and there's a delicious version of it on that table. Last year, my wife and I bought a babka to take home for later and wound up eating the entire thing in the car before we even left downtown — and this was after having our fill of matzoh ball soup, latkes, and the ever-necessary kosher hot dogs. What makes the quality of these foods even more special is that they are prepared by volunteers to be sold, so it's as if everybody breaks out their grandma's best recipe to share with the world each year.
As you walk around, stuffing your face with blintzes, be sure to catch performances by the musical groups B-Flats, the Klezmer Band, the Schechinotes. Their mix of traditional and contemporary Jewish music is a fitting soundtrack to the booths that teach about the history of this storied faith, the people who have followed it for so long — and the food that has made it one of the most unique culinary traditions in the world. There isn't a chance to get this kind of delicious ethnic cuisine in Little Rock very often, so take advantage of the hard work of the people who come together each year to share their culture with all of us.
The 2013 Jewish Food and Cultural Festival will be held April 28 from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. in the River Market Pavilions. Early birds can get there at 8:30 a.m. for a breakfast of lox and bagels, and admission is free.