Mujaddara without meat is a poor man’s plate. Sprinkle some kibbeh on it and you get both a historically Eastern dish and the appetizer at the NCSY Garden Sizzler. The annual summer soiree, which benefits the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, was a celebration ripe with the most plethoric of menus. Seared steak, slow-smoked brisket, succulent short ribs, smoked peppered turkey and pulled beef, all served at buffet-styled stations, provided more than 300 attendees a virtual merry-go-round at the carnivorous carnival.
As in years past, the Sizzler spectacle delivered a dizzying amount of victuals. But at the heart of it (no, anticucho wasn’t served), the evening was about bringing people together, said Shoshi Butler, a volunteer and hostess at the June 26 affair.
Whereas some events cater to particular streams, “we have attendees from all ends of the Jewish community,” she noted.
And the diversity is increasing, added Nina Butler, Shoshi’s mother and a longtime NCSY supporter. “The huge cross-section of the community gets broader and more beautiful each year.”
As for why the 26-year-old function keeps growing, the elder Butler remarked, “I think people are here to support outreach and informal Jewish education, but my husband says they’re all here for the food.”
Without picking sides, City Councilman Corey O’Connor said of the fundraiser: “It helps a great cause and brings so many residents out for a great night.”
Apart from O’Connor, other local politicians including City Councilman Dan Gilman, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto joined in attendance.
“There’s nothing like it in the city,” said Peduto. “It not only brings together the Jewish community, but brings together the Squirrel Hill community as a whole.”
For those unfamiliar with the almost preposterously plentiful provenders, it was a happening of surprise.
“I’m blown away by it,” said Shana Ziff, a first-time attendee of the barbecue bash.
“My stomach couldn’t believe my eyes,” echoed Ziff’s husband, Aaron.
Equally mesmerized was David Jacobson of Squirrel Hill, who reflected on his choice of chow.
“On my plate is an outer lining of chicken and an inner lining of beef. On the bottom layer, I believe there is a burger. In these times, where the divine presence is hidden, not unlike the bottom layer of meat on my plate, it is all the more critical to get the community together to join forces on worthy causes.”
Such is the effect of NCSY, said Nina Butler. Through teen-directed programming, which includes weekly Jewish student union clubs in Pittsburgh Allderdice, the Ellis School and Upper Saint Clair High School, NCSY has reached more than 250 teens in the Steel City this year.
Much of the credit is due to Rabbi Ari Goldberg, who, along with his wife, Rachel, has locally fostered the national organization’s growth.
The Goldbergs have given “more than a decade of selfless dedication to the Jewish teenagers of Pittsburgh and the Central East Region of NCSY,” said Rabbi Tzali Friedman, regional director of Central East NCSY, before presenting the couple with an award.
Emotional in his acceptance, Rabbi Goldberg graciously thanked those present for the “meaningful” experiences that NCSY afforded.
After a decade with the organization, Goldberg has chosen to take on a financial planning position at Heffron Tillerson. The move allows him to return to a career that he put on hold more than 10 years ago.
The past decade has been “stellar” for NCSY, said Chaim Strassman, incoming chapter director of Pittsburgh NCSY. “They’ve done a fabulous job. Goldberg and NCSY have become synonymous.”
Throughout the meaty feast, the Goldbergs were feted with multiple honors, including public praise and a familiar fare — Kansas City party wings, a regional nod to the Jewish educator’s hometown.
“Of course being from Kansas I have seen my fair share of barbecues,” remarked the rabbi, before continuing.
[The assistance made by each person here tonight] “has a tremendous impact on the lives of Jewish teens in Pittsburgh. I have seen firsthand the effect that this partnership has on our community.”
This is the reason why so many parties continue to support NCSY, said Shoshi Butler.
“It’s a common cause.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.