Hamotzi and food trucks Shabbat goes pop-up in Oakland

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The lines at the food trucks 30 yards away were already starting to form when San Francisco musician Isaac Zones, wearing a Bucharian kippah, began to strum his guitar and sing Shabbat songs.

With the sun still blazing on a warm Shabbat evening, a crowd of about 40 people, some getting up out of their lawn chairs, moved closer and joined in. Nearby was a table covered with a purple cloth and drawings of hamsas and topped with candles, several challahs and grape juice bottles — the supplies for Kehilla Community Synagogue’s first “Pop-Up Shabbat.”

The celebrants assembled May 11 at the first Bites Off Broadway food-truck event of 2012, an event that drew hundreds of people to the sidewalk and a grassy area adjacent to Oakland Tech High School. Five food trucks and one food stand served up Indian, Indonesian, Mexican and American foods.

A sign at Kehilla’s May 11 outdoor Shabbat service photo/andy altman-ohr

The Kehilla group gathered on the fringe of the activity, near the Studio One Art Center in Oakland, where Rabbi Dev Noily, the synagogue’s school director, led an abbreviated but spirited Shabbat service. She invited the group to join her in lighting the Sabbath candles (which proved to be difficult in the breeze), and added a blast from the shofar.

The horn’s tekiah — in fact, the presence of worship — was a first for Bites Off Broadway, according to event coordinator Karen Hester.

The Pop-Up Shabbat also was a first for Kehilla, a Renewal congregation near the Oakland-Piedmont border, less than two miles from Bites Off Broadway.

“Just one more reason to love north Oakland,” said Kehilla congregant Don Stone, a tall, dapper man wearing a white kippah. “Shabbat brought me to the food trucks.”

He attended the event with his wife, Bracha, who wore a Bucharian kippah. They live 15 blocks away, and were especially happy to see Kehilla celebrating Shabbat in a public venue. “We tend to be not public-space oriented,” Don said.

Pop-Up Shabbat was the brainchild of Noily, who lives near the Studio One Art Center and didn’t want to miss another Bites Off Broadway, especially this one. The event had been on hiatus for nearly eight months while the Oakland City Council dickered with a policy that had made food-truck events illegal, and East Bay foodies had eagerly anticipated its return.

The hitch, of course, is that the event occurs on Friday evenings. “I want to do the fun things in my neighborhood and do Shabbat,” Noily said.

Pop-Up Shabbat took the place of the synagogue’s once-a-month Community Shabbat, and, according to Sasha Gottfried, Kehilla’s communications coordinator, proved to be more popular. Usually for Community Shabbats, a small group gathers for potluck dinner and blessings, Gottfried said.

Outside, with dozens of Oaklanders eating nearby, and with kids tossing bean bags and playing with hula hoops just yards away, Zones invited the Kehilla group to sing the Shehechiyanu. “It says, ‘Wow, we’re here right now,” explained Talia Cooper, one of the evening’s song leaders.

After the Shehechiyanu, the worshippers ringed the table and chanted the  blessings over the candles, grape juice and challah. People were still munching on the abundant supply of challah when the 30-minute service ended.

Some headed immediately for the food trucks. Kehilla board member Lynn Bravewomon and congregant Eva Patterson, both of Oakland, highly recommended Conklin’s Gourmet Food Truck (serving Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean dishes) for an ideal Shabbat dinner.

Others lingered near the Kehilla table, chatting about various topics, including how the event engendered a strong sense of community and that there should be another Pop-Up Shabbat soon, a sentiment with which Noily agreed.

“How wonderful for children to see this Jewish activity outside,” said Patterson, a tall woman with a slight Hungarian accent. “It’s a sweet way to share with others — and get rid of prejudice and stereotypes.”

Congregant Sydelle Raffe also was smiling about the public display of Judaism. “Jewish people having Shabbat in public? I feel like it’s always been a hidden thing,” she said as she held her lapdog, Moishe. That’s his Shabbat name, Raffe admitted. Most of the time, she calls him Mo.

Most of the worshippers were Kehilla congregants who knew about the event, Noily said. But the event spontaneously attracted others, such as the Wolmark-Wolven family, residents of Oakland who are members of Temple Sinai  — a straight shot down Broadway, 17 blocks away from the food event.

It was Joey, 7, a relatively new reader, who noticed a sign and exclaimed, “Look Dad, it’s Pop-Up Shabbat!”