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Schtick’s Pop-Up Event Series for Seder Celebrates Jewish Culture



Why was this Seder different from all other Seders?

Start with the setup: a glittering table set for 100, running the length of a drafty warehouse in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. And it was not just any old warehouse; this is where Joyva, the stalwart kosher candy company, stores its stacks of halvah, a fudgelike sesame confection.

Then there were the guests: not your typical Passover assortment of Tisches, Kaplans and Rubensteins. Sitting elbow to elbow at the table, waiting to snap matzo, were dozens of New York influencers, artists, designers, creative directors, chefs and fashionistas. If the prophet Elijah showed up midway through the meal, his seatmates would have surely asked for his Instagram handle.

Also unlike most seders, this one, on Thursday night (before the start of the holiday), featured a D.J. with face tattoos who blasted a Hot 97-style air horn at intervals throughout the evening.

It was all the doing of Shtick, a pop-up dinner party series around the city that celebrates Jewish culture. The events are mostly invite-only. Guests at the Seder and past parties have included Brett Gelman, the actor; Samantha Ronson, the D.J.; Richard Kind, the actor; Chi Ossé, the Brooklyn city councilman; and the actor David Schwimmer.

Shtick is more or less a one-woman project, run by Jacqueline Lobel, a freelance television producer and director whose aim, she said, is to organize “Jewish communal dining experiences that are sexy.”

The Seder is a ritual meal that retells the biblical story of the Israelites’ bondage and salvation. So what exactly does a sexy one look like?

It began with a cocktail hour on the Joyva factory floor, where guests wearing sanitary smocks and hairnets shuffled in Bode Astro Grabbers and Tory Burch flats past steaming vats of semiliquid halvah and hulking machines enrobing candy rings in chocolate.

Then, a young, stylish rabbi named Arielle Stein — whom several guests referred to as “the hot rabbi” — led a service from a custom Haggadah that characterized Passover as “the Super Bowl of Jewish holidays” and featured images of Fran Drescher, Gene Simmons (Jewish!) and Larry David.

The ceremonial ingredients were served not off large plates, but out of vintage champagne coupes. Matzo ball soup came in those blue and white paper coffee cups with Hellenic lettering.

A photographer and a videographer sidestepped around the giant table, and despite the rabbi’s request for phones to be put away, phones were not put away. The meal was intended to be eaten; the Seder was intended for social media consumption.

“Every Shtick dinner is what I wished my bat mitzvah looked like,” said Ms. Lobel, 34, who was wearing a sheer, pink tulle dress by the designer Batsheva Hay, who herself was a guest at the Seder.

Much like a certain kind of bat mitzvah, the night had a theme: “Secret Soviet Seder,” in honor of the refuseniks, Soviet Jews in the 1970s who were discriminated against for their religious practice and weren’t allowed to emigrate, as they wanted, to the United States or Israel. Guests didn’t receive the location of the Seder until 48 hours beforehand. And in between the cocktail hour and the meal, there was a video art installation about Soviet Jews.

Ms. Lobel was born to modern Orthodox parents in Brooklyn. When she was 5, her father came out as gay, and his community ostracized him. Ms. Lobel stayed in Jewish school through high school, but never felt as if she fit in, she said.

But later, as an adult, Ms. Lobel felt drawn back to her Jewish heritage, and it bothered her that there didn’t seem to be many Jewish dining experiences outside delis and bagel shops. So Ms. Lobel set out to design a version of Jewish culture that she wished she had growing up.

After a few fits and starts, she introduced the current iteration of Shtick in 2022 with a Hanukkah dinner at the historic Greek synagogue on Broome Street. Influential New Yorkers like the food writer Alison Roman and the jewelry designer Susan Korn were among the attendees.

Shtick is as much about the secular signifiers of New York Jewish culture — the Shtick Instagram account has posts devoted to Billy Joel and Barbra Streisand — as it is about any kind of dogmatic religious practice.

“I’ll quote Virgil Abloh,” Ms. Lobel said. “For me, Shtick is about having a mix of tourists and purists.”

In the Joyva factory, the latter did their best to guide the former. Aisha Rosenfeld, the head of human resources in North America for the designer Brunello Cucinelli, patiently demonstrated to her seatmate, a model and yoga teacher named Eden Amare, how to dip her pinkie in red wine and tap out on her plate the 10 drops that symbolize the 10 plagues God brought against the Egyptians. Helaina Ferraioli, who works at the vintage shop where Ms. Lobel sourced many of the table settings, haltingly pieced together a sandwich of matzo and charoset, a sweet slaw made of apples, walnuts and cinnamon.

Typically, a Seder concludes with the chanting of “L’Shana Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim,” which means “Next Year in Jerusalem” — historically, an expression of the wish for the end of Jewish exile. Today, the phrase takes on a particularly loaded significance as people come together for the first Passover since the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas that led to the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip.

But though the Haggadah included an entry explaining the expression, the Seder itself never got around to it. After the main meal, guests were socializing too much to corral back to the table.

Indeed, the Shtick Seder was relatively light on references to the Jewish state — despite being funded, in part, by the Fooksman Family Foundation, a California nonprofit whose mission is “to help shape the future of Israel, strengthen Jewish continuity, and promote Jewish life and culture in a post-exile era.”

“It’s always the elephant in the room,” said Ms. Stein, the rabbi. “But I don’t think it needs to be central to every event.”

The war hovered at the edges. One guest, Vanessa Bronfman, was wearing an oversize dog tag that read, “Bring Them Home,” referring to the remaining Israeli hostages being held in Gaza. Ms. Bronfman had connected with Ms. Lobel at a discussion group at the New York home of her younger sister, Hannah Bronfman, the influencer. Ms. Lobel said that since Oct. 7 she had been “inundated” with requests to attend her events, such is the desire among Jews to reconnect with Jewish ritual.

During the Seder, Luba Proger, an artist who was born in the Soviet Union, in modern day Russia, gave a toast in which she encouraged the audience not to hide their support for Israel, nor their Jewish identities.

“I invite you to be proud,” she said.

Then, she seemed to reconsider — perhaps taking into account the spectrum of opinions in the room.

“Well, I invite myself to be proud; you can do whatever you want,” she said, to nervous laughter.

On the way out of the warehouse, guests filed past stacks of Jell Rings and marshmallow twists, as well as a taupe pyramid made entirely of halvah. Outside, in the moments before rideshares arrived, the sounds of noshing could be heard.

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