No Fish Story: Buenos Aires Revels in Gefilte at Passover Fest

Tourists shopping in Buenos Aires’ fashionable Palermo Hollywood area may have smelled something fishy recently.

Amid the innovative objects, modern art galleries and elaborate gourmet dining spots at Costa Rica and Armenia Square on March 24-25 was the second Urban Passover-Gefilte Fish Festival, which featured a contest for the best gefilte fish.

The winner was Berta Azicri, 73, a grandmother who was enrolled in the contest by her grandaughters.

“Though they do not especially love fish, they really like my gefilte fish,” Azicri told JTA of her family members. “My daughter’s husband is not Jewish, and my granddaughters thought that this was the right event to be in — not religious but festive, and re-creating traditions.”

Festival organizers estimated that some 16,000 people visited the 40 stands of Jewish foods and crafts and danced to some of the 13 musical shows, which included a church chorus.

The event was put together by YOK, a group created in early 2005 with local funds to develop social and cultural activities for non-affiliated Jews. Organizers said it was held right before Passover to provide inspiration for the upcoming holiday and celebrate its values.

The crowd was entertained by Yiddish and klezmer melodies, as well as Balkan, Sephardic, Chasidic and traditional Hebrew songs.

Azicri, who works in the cloth and furniture business, was among 1,746 entrants in the gefilte fish event Sunday afternoon. She said she felt “joyful to have participated,” adding that her late husband enjoyed Jewish celebrations.

Azicri used hake and dorado for her secret recipe, replacing trout and boga — a silver-colored river fish — because of their high cost.

One tip from the winner: Acquire the fish “brand fresh.” And forget measurements: Azicri said her recipe is done “by eye.”

At the busy square, festival visitors shared knishes and sambusas — cheese-filled pastries — from stands. Matzah was offered at every corner.

Among the $6 T-shirts sold by YOK, the best seller was the “Orgullo goy” — “goy pride” — for non-Jewish friends. Soaps shaped like matzah balls were sold for $10 a package. Stands also sold sets of dishes with Jewish decorations, seder plates, colorful kipot and Leibele Schwartz CDs.

For several visitors, the festival recalled Passovers past. Esther Rubinstein, 67, a lawyer with Russian and Polish roots who was raised in Buenos Aires province, cried when she heard the song “Arun der Faier.”

“It was the song my dear sister Dolly used to sing during my childhood,” she said.

“I came to remember my bubbe’s food,” especially the minced liver with onions, said Ricardo Podgaiz.

Lawyer Guido Rubinstein, 35, was at the festival with his wife and baby.

“I am here to persuade my wife to enroll us in a Jewish club,” he said, adding that perhaps bringing her to a Jewish festival would encourage her.

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