Letter from Shoham: Thank You Memphis Jewish Community!

At this year’s ASBEE World Kosher BBQ Competition and Festival, our community was treated to the exotic tastes of Israeli cuisine, prepared with fiery passion by Tovi and Esti Kochav, Alon Radzi, and Guy Reder. Their cooking team, dubbed Shoham? No-Ham!, traveled from Memphis’s partner city in Israel, Shoham, as part of the Partnership2Gether Peoplehood Platform, a program of Jewish Agency for Israel.

Upon their return to Shoham, husband and wife team members Tovi and Esti Kochav wrote this love letter to Memphis and our Jewish community. 

Our journey begins with a peculiar email I received a few months ago – only my curiosity made me have a second look before deleting it from my inbox – and continues with a request from the wonderful Anna Berkman, Shoham–Memphis Partnership Director, asking us to write about our Memphis experience.

That email, which started it all, invited Shoham community members to apply for participation in a delegation of representatives to the ASBEE World Kosher BBQ Competition and Festival in Memphis as part of Jewish Agency Partnership 2gether Project. The project aims to strengthen connections between sister cities Shoham and Memphis. And to think; I almost deleted the email!

Known as having a great appetite for meat, and perhaps an even greater appetite for adventure, I called to Esti, “Save the date – we’re going to Memphis!” Though many were skeptical, nothing would stop me from following my master plan: getting accepted into the team, having Esti’s participation approved, and the biggest challenge of all – getting our visa ready in two days.

Following a strict application process, I was happy to receive the announcement that my participation was approved (and so was my wife’s)! Our team – including Alon Radzi, Guy Reder and myself – got to work!

Very quickly the three of us went from total strangers to a true dream-team – we were dedicated and motivated to complete our ultimate goal of people-to-people connection.

Thursday morning, we arrived in Memphis not knowing exactly what to expect. Immediately we were put at ease, as we were surrounded by the smiling faces of our lovely hosts, Lisa and Seth Kaufman. We learned so much about Memphis and its diverse yet united Jewish community.

That evening, we started preparing our Israeli version of Southern BBQ, even while we overheard whispers “they are cutting the brisket!,” and realized we might be altering a long-lasting tradition.

After a long day of touring in Memphis on Friday, finally Shabbat arrived and brought its special feeling of home. Our hosts did a wonderful job of introducing us to many community members – and also to the many flavors of their famous southern cooking! Together, we prayed, laughed (even to the point of tears) and discussed challenges from both sides – related to Jewish identity, and raising and educating our children. We did not expect to find so many similarities in a community so far away from home.

After a wonderful Shabbat experience, we started a new week energized by witnessing the Memphis Grizzlies beating the Golden State Warriors, the reigning NBA champions!

And then: the big day had arrived!

We began Sunday morning at 6:00 A.M., joining forces as a team to BBQ using our unique Israeli style and flavors.

Our booth, shared with Jewish Community Partners, was very well-attended. Our Shawarma Briskets, hummus, tehini, and wings were flying off the shelves! We almost couldn’t keep up. We felt honored to see the excitement and joy of the community meeting us – the team from Shoham.

Even though we did not return with the 1st place trophy, we still came out as winners – completing our goal of reaching out and making a connection!

Our long day ended with a farewell dinner together with everyone who put their energy and love into the partnership – and who turned this dream into reality.

Thank you, Memphis Jewish community, and Shoham – Memphis committee members for an unforgettable experience!

A special thanks to:

Samantha, Jill and Scott Notowich – for your drive and belief in the Partnership

Lisa and Seth Kaufman – for opening your home and hearts to us

Bluma Zuckerbrot-Finkelstein and Rabbi Joel Finkelstein – for exposing us to the community at its best

Debbie and Stuart Lazarov – for your support and assistance in whatever we needed

Beni Dragutsky and Melanie Fine – Memphis committee members for sharing your time with us

Anat and Cantor Ricky Kampf – for welcoming us as if we were old friends

Pace and David Cooper – for an unforgettable NBA experience

Our mission is accomplished, but it was only the beginning of more friendships and adventures to come.

And you may want to think twice before deleting your emails :)

See you soon!