Latkepalooza: more than just a lot of latkes

Latkepalooza: more than just a lot of latkes

Targeted for the younger set, Latkepalooza, with its 1,920 latkes, became an event “for everybody.” (Photo provided by J-JEP)
Targeted for the younger set, Latkepalooza, with its 1,920 latkes, became an event “for everybody.” (Photo provided by J-JEP)

For the sixth straight year, the Joint Jewish Education Program of Pittsburgh hosted Latkepalooza. The Chanukah-themed program, which was held in the Beth Shalom social hall, welcomed students, teachers, families and volunteers involved in the collaborative educational enterprise between Congregation Beth Shalom and Rodef Shalom Congregation.

Since its inception, Latkepalooza has grown. Originally, the fun-filled program was available solely to the religious school, said Liron Lipinsky, J-JEP director. In the years following, invitations have increased and attendance has expanded exponentially. For this year’s Latkepalooza, Lipinsky estimated that between 300 and 350 people arrived to play Chanukah games, make Chanukah crafts, win prizes and eat the seasonal treats of latkes and doughnuts.

This year’s event, which featured 12 craft activities, 18 games, a photo booth and face painting, welcomed not only increased attendance, but also new co-sponsors. Lipinsky said that both Shalom Pittsburgh (the Federation’s young-adult division) and J Line (a JCC-created community for teens, regardless of affiliation or background) joined J-JEP in creating a successful event.

Apart from manning booths and disseminating information, the organizations provided other assistance. Fifteen J Line teenagers volunteered to run games and handle various tasks throughout the event.

Debbie Swartz, overseas planning associate for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, provided passers-by with materials regarding financial assistance for young-adult travel to Israel.

“The Federation is a co-sponsor of Latkepalooza, and we’re happy to support a community event like this,” said Swartz.  

Rabbi Ron Symons, senior director of Jewish life at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, handed out fliers about upcoming J Line programs.

Carolyn Gerecht, director of teen learning at the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh, explained the benefits of providing Latkepalooza with 15 eighth- to 12th-grade J Line volunteers.

“This is a great relationship-building opportunity for current and future J Line students,” Gerecht said.

When asked about the intended Latkepalooza audience, Lipinsky initially said that the event was initially for 2-year-olds through seventh-graders. But after looking around the crowded social hall, she said, “I mean it’s for everybody.”

Perhaps more overwhelming than the sea of activities occurring throughout the social hall were the trays of food being prepared in the kitchen. Ira Frank claimed that approximately 1,920 latkes were being heated for Latkepalooza. This was in addition to the 263 chocolate-filled doughnuts that Mordy Brown (Mordy Brown Catering) had baked for the event.

When asked why specifically 263 doughnuts, Brown replied, “Because that’s what [Lipinsky] asked me to make.”

All around the room families and friends could be seen playing Chanukah games, making dreidels out of clay, decorating cookies and even coloring mezuzahs.

“As an Israeli who grew up in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh is the first place I felt Shabbat and the chagim,” said Lipinsky. “This defines that. The community, regardless of denomination, comes together. That’s what I love about Pittsburgh.”

“It’s great to have the whole community come together to celebrate Chanukah,” said Rachel Firestone.

“It’s nice to get everybody together in the same room when it’s not Shabbos and have a good time,” remarked Josh Friedman, as he chewed on a golden latke.

When asked about these particular potato pancakes, Friedman added, “They’re good. They’re the first latkes of the year. I’m sure after eight days I’ll be tired of latkes, but the first ones are always nice.”

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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