Storytelling series sinks its teeth into Jewish food

Passover is right around the corner, and so is, by proxy, your litany of memories about mouth-igniting maror, premature afikomen munching and the preparation of the meal itself.

What better time to share stories of Jews and food?

San Francisco’s Porchlight storytelling series moves for the first time to the East Bay on April 14 with a very timely offering: “What Am I, Chopped Liver? Stories of Food and Jews.”

Porchlight is a monthly gathering at which six people share unscripted stories on a particular theme. It was created by S.F. resident Arline Klatte and Oakland resident Beth Lisick, neither of whom are Jewish.

The pair met when they worked as entertainment editors for Klatte joked that they “loved goofing off and listening to people tell stories more than we liked working, usually.”

Lisick is now a best-selling author (“Everybody Into the Pool”); Klatte works as a real estate agent. Porchlight has been their pet project for six years, and they hope it continues to grow.

Their friend Dayvid Figler — who has traveled from his Las Vegas home to San Francisco for five previous Porchlight readings — came up with the theme of Jews and food. He liked its universal appeal.

Passover revolves around “this epic meal,” he said. “The thing that strikes me most about seders is the heartache that goes on over the food. When I was a kid, our family seder was this really long thing, my uncle would go on forever, and we’d get so hungry waiting for this food that we’d find the afikomen and eat it rather than save it and make a buck.

“Anyway, long story short, Passover is often about food. And it’s the same thing with most Jewish holidays. There’s always food around. We’re either not eating it, eating too muchof it, or waiting to eat it.”

Figler, a public radio commentator and practicing lawyer, will share a story about the kosher bakery that his Polish grandparents owned for decades in Chicago. He’ll be joined by U.C. Davis professor Lawrence Bogad, writer Nomy Lamm, journalist Emily Richmond, filmmaker Tiffany Shlain and Rabbi Alan Lew.

Lew, the rabbi emeritus at Congregation Beth Sholom in San Francisco, said storytelling was a big part of his sermons and teaching style.

That background will no doubt assist him during the upcoming storytelling session, which requires participants to tell a story — notes or memorization are prohibited — in 10 minutes or less.

“All spiritual traditions lean heavily on stories; they manage to convey things you can’t say otherwise,” said Lew. “In Chassidic traditions, telling stories is one of the most important ways of getting across spiritual information. Some things you just can’t say in a quick, expository way. So you encapsulate it in a story.”

All Porchlight evenings also reserve time for audience participation. Lisick and Klatte will pull names out of a hat, and those people will have one minute to tell a quick story. Sometimes, Klatte said, those are the best stories.

“The people the audience loves most are authentic,” she said. “It’s really obvious when you see that on stage — someone who’s themselves. Everybody falls in love with that.”

“What am I, Chopped Liver? Stories of Food and Jews,” 8 p.m. Monday, April 14 at the JCC East Bay, 1414 Walnut St., Berkeley. Tickets $8 JCC members, $12 general public. Doors open at 7 p.m. for a wine reception. For more information, check or call the JCC at

(510) 848.0237

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.