P.S.: Tucson chef creates Guinness world record matzah ball; Israeli’s Israel travels; Pilates guru; Hadassah hears Marquez

World’s largest matzah ball

Shlomo & Vito’s New York Delicatessen Chef Jon Wirtis (left), deli owner Dean Greenberg (center) and Jim Liebeskind (right) measure the world’s largest matzah ball.

On Sunday, Nov. 7, Chef Jon Wirtis of Shlomo & Vito’s New York Delicatessen set the Guinness World Record for the world’s biggest matzah ball. The massive creation weighed 488 pounds and measured 36 inches across. This extraordinary feat was witnessed (and devoured) by thousands at the third annual Tucson Jewish Food Festival at Brandi Fenton Memorial Park. In lieu of an official GWR adjudicator, three local judges — Rodney Glassman, Allen Kath, and Stephen Rubin — verified the results, with Odell Baskerville, past president of the Tucson chapter of the American Culinary Federation, overseeing from the food industry.

Jon used a “slightly modified” version of his late grandmother Goldye Bodin’s original recipe. It included 160 pounds of matzah meal, 36 pounds of schmaltz, 30 pounds of canola oil, over 1,700 whole eggs and 20 pounds of egg whites, with salt and pepper to taste. Our cook used a custom-made pot, six feet in diameter by six feet deep, with a 1,200-gallon capacity. With the help of other Chef de Cuisine Society chefs, Jon filled the pot with over 800 gallons of chicken soup to accommodate the cooking of the giant matzah ball. The soup was made with more than 300 chickens, 40 pounds of carrots, 80 pounds of onions, 20 bunches of celery, six pounds of aromatics, and salt to taste. Wirtis had just two criteria for the enormous creation: “It had to FLOAT and it had to TASTE GOOD!”

The following are some of the logistics of Wirtis’ undertaking: The gigantic pot was set over six large burners that emitted over 300,000 BTU’s/hour to heat the soup and cook the matzah ball. The matzah ball took almost 30 hours to cook completely, simmering in the 800 gallons of soup. The ball, nestled in a 100 percent cotton sling, was hoisted with a forklift and lowered into the pot at midnight on Friday, Nov. 5. Jon stayed on site at the park from dusk to dawn, monitoring the temperature of the soup and matzah ball until the morning of the event. At 11 a.m., the matzah ball was hoisted out of the simmering soup via sling and forklift with a certified spring scale attached (like ones used to weigh giant marlin, swordfish and sharks for records). The rest is history.

Proceeds from the event benefit the Primavera Foundation, Community Food Bank, and Congregation Or Chadash, which planned the festival. Matzah ball leftovers were donated to the Community Food Bank.

The old record, a 267- pound matzah ball, had been set last year by NYC deli Chef Anthony Sylvestri, who, at the time, vowed: “If someone was to beat this record, then I’ll beat it again.” Stay tuned for this ongoing culinary competition.

An Israeli’s Israel experiences

Sisters Leah Kovitz (left) and Ilana Bakchi at the Western Wall

For the High Holidays and Sukkot, Israeli born-and-raised Tucsonan Leah Kovitz traveled back to her homeland for one of her semi-annual family visits.

Accompanied by her sister, Ilana Bakchi, and brother Ezra Eini, both of Rehovot, Leah watched the sound and light show at Jerusalem’s famed Citadel (Tower of David). Then the siblings walked to the Western Wall for the midnight Selichot service, where hundreds were praying for forgiveness for their sins of the past year.

The threesome proceeded to an area north of Jaffa Street and behind the Mahane Yehuda Market where Leah remembered traveling as a little girl with her family from Holon (south of Tel Aviv) to see her grandparents. These elders lived among small neighborhoods with traditional synagogues that dated back 200 years. The resident families came from all over the Middle East — Iraq, Babylonia, Macedonia, Armenia, and Haleb (Syria). Each group spoke its own language and sang its own melodies. In these enclaves, our traveler reminisced about one-room houses with shared plumbing, water from the well, and unstinting hospitality, with neighbors partaking of each other’s specialty foods. Over the years, people moved away and these local houses of worship were forgotten. Recently, according to Leah, many young Orthodox Israelis have revitalized these synagogues. After their visit to the Wall, the siblings spent most of the night touring these shuls filled with worshipers before returning to Tel Aviv.

Boning up for your health

Rebekah Rotstein

Rebekah (‘Becky’) Rotstein, 34, grew up in Tucson, graduating from the North Carolina School of the Arts in 1994 after three years at Tucson’s University High School. She received her BA from Smith College in 1998. A Pilates instructor and movement educator in New York City, Becky discovered Pilates through physical therapy while rehabilitating career-ending injuries as a ballet dancer.

On Sept. 28, Rotstein’s Pilates for Buff BonesTM was featured as SELF magazine’s Move of the Day. Her program uses bone-strengthening techniques, with additional focus on alignment and balance, to give one’s buttocks, hips, arms and back a great workout. Rotstein teaches workshops, presents programs internationally, and has produced online demo videos/classes promoting bone health and the prevention of osteoporosis. Our “mover,” who’s currently writing a book pertaining to her field, has also been interviewed by CNN, Martha Stewart Living Radio, and Vogue Magazine, among others.

Marquez speaks at Hadassah conference

Edmund Marquez and Cathy Olswing

On Saturday, Oct. 2, Tucsonan Edmund Marquez addressed members of Hadassah’s Desert-Mountain Region at the Doubletree Hotel. He spoke of his August mission to Israel with AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Marquez, a community advocate and past chairman of Tucson’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, was the sole delegate from Tucson, joining 15 other Latino leaders from across the United States. This was his second trip to the Holy Land— he’d traveled with family members on the Jewish Community Relations Council’s multi-faith mission in May 2005 — and he was thrilled to return.

The group visited an immigration absorption center and was impressed with the special care given to African immigrants, from language training to housing. Marquez mentioned the $3 billion in aid that the United States gives to Israel, indicating that 75 percent of this assistance comes back to the United States in purchases from companies such as Raytheon. His power point slides also showed his poignant experience at Yad Vashem.

Attending this 8-state regional conference were Hadassah Southern Arizona members Mary Alderman, Barbara Esmond, Corinne Forti, Anne Lowe, Shelley Lipowich, Cathy Olswing, Karen Skolnik, Andrea Tal, Geri Tingley, and Susan Wortman.

Time to share

You know the drill. Keep me posted — 319-1112. L’shalom.