By Avraham Burger
On Wednesday night, August 14, a taste of Texas came to Cedarhurst, as the Wandering Que pulled in at the home of Asher and Ashira Schepansky on Arlington Road and set up for the barbecue event of the summer. On a beautiful, clear night that was asking to be enjoyed outdoors, the backyard soon went from play area for the Schepansky kids to Texas-style backyard BBQ hot spot. The excitement for Fleishfest was palatable and at 7:30 the crowd began to arrive and kept coming for four full hours, until over 200 men had come for a great event in support of Priority‑1.
The culinary smorgasbord began with a variety of excellent sushi, provided by Sushi Tokyo in Lawrence. As people arrived, they enjoyed a wine-tasting from Herzog Wine Cellars while the main fair—the various smoked meats—were being prepared. The setting was ideal; the weather was perfect and the yard was ringed with tiki torches and set with couches in a lounge area, tables, and food and drink stations, with a live DJ spinning tracks to set the tone for a relaxed and enjoyable evening.
The star attraction of the evening, the Wandering Que, is an 18-foot Texas-style wood-burning smoker and truly takes barbecue to a whole different level. Ari White, the pit master and barbecue expert who owns and operates the Que, explained that his meats are smoked for hours before the barbecue begins, to impart the signature smoky flavor of a real Texas barbecue. The menu included succulent ribs, barbecue brisket—pulled and sliced, beef sliders, pulled chicken, roasted turkey legs, and a host of other dishes, along with a wide variety of fine wines, Blue Moon and Yuengling beers, and freshly made lemonade, iced tea, and sangria. At 8:00 p.m. the barbecue opened and a line stretching 50 people long quickly formed to taste the amazing food from the Wandering Que.
The highlight of the program was a short speech by a graduate from Priority‑1’s Torah Academy alternative high school class of 2008. Yisroel (a pseudonym) spoke to the crowd about the impact Priority‑1 has on youth in our community. He started his speech with a powerful line that resonated with emotion. “First of all, I’d like to thank Hashem for bringing me here today. I’d like to thank my parents because without them I would not be here today. And finally I’d like to thank Priority‑1 because without their help I would not be here today.” He spoke about the abuses he suffered as a child and the messy divorce his parents went through when he was in elementary school. Ninth grade arrived and he was in and out of several schools in short order and soon found himself in trouble with the legal system.
Yisroel came to Priority‑1 in tenth grade and found a place that filled the void in his life, providing the care and attention he needed to thrive. He remained in the high school for the next three years, traveling two hours on the train each way to attend school! Yisroel graduated from high school as a mature young man prepared to excel in life and ready to blossom into a bright future . . . and he has.
In the years since graduation from Priority‑1, Yisroel has accomplished more than could have been hoped for. He learned in yeshiva in Israel and then served in the Israeli Defense Forces with distinction. He came back to America and became a paramedic, earning an award for saving a man’s life. Today, he works locally in the Five Towns and owns a small security company that provides bodyguards and security personnel, parlaying his experience from the IDF into a small business. And last but certainly not least, Yisroel is engaged and preparing to marry in a few weeks!
Throughout all of these experiences, Yisroel has maintained a close connection to his high-school mentors and rebbeim. He speaks with them regularly and has continued to learn and grow under their guidance and support. One of the points he addressed in his speech was this facet of Priority‑1’s program, the special emphasis placed on building long-term relationships, following up with students well after they have graduated and moved on from high school, ensuring that the success and progress from high school leads to results for life.
After a break to allow the attendees to refill their plates and glasses, Rabbi Shaya Cohen, the founder of Priority‑1, spoke briefly. He addressed an underlying issue in education today which is connected to Fleishfest. In the times of the Beis HaMikdash, when a person would bring a korban and the animal would be found to have a mum, rendering it pasul (unfit) for use, the animal is redeemed for money. The animal itself, however, was slaughtered and there is a specific mitzvah to eat this animal that was formerly hekdesh. Rabbi Cohen quoted the Sefer HaChinuch, which explains the reason for this mitzvah is that if it were not obligatory for one to eat the animal and it was simply allowed to be eaten, people might foolishly be machmir and think they should not eat and enjoy this animal that was hekdesh moments earlier. Therefore, Hashem made a special commandment requiring the eating and enjoyment of this animal.
This idea underscores the solution to one of the most serious problems we see in the frum world today—the lack of enjoyment and excitement in Yiddishkeit. Youth today (and many adults) view Judaism as unenjoyable and focused on restrictions and obligations. This is not supposed to be the case. Shabbos and yom tov in particular were designed for enjoyment, with specific obligations tailored to achieve that goal. Every mitzvah can and should be an enjoyable undertaking, no matter how onerous or restrictive it may appear to be. While this may seem difficult at times, it is important to learn about and understand the benefits of the various mitzvos and make sure our children understand and experience the enjoyment of mitzvos in order to build a Yiddishkeit that is strong, lasting, and enjoyable.
The concept of a Fleishfest started one evening several months ago at a meeting between the administration of Priority‑1 and the hosts of Fleishfest, Asher Schepansky and Ephraim Tennenbaum. The discussion focused on how to get the message out about Priority‑1’s work in the community and to raise funds to support Priority‑1’s high school for youth at risk. Priority‑1 has had an annual summer barbecue for several years, but many people still did not know much about Priority‑1 and simply saw an organization, one of the many vying for the attention and tzedakah of a community constantly being asked to shell out for many good causes. Fleishfest is about recognizing that people want to enjoy giving tzedakah . . . they needed to enjoy this mitzvah and they should enjoy it, similar to the concept of Shabbos or yom tov. Many guys spend summer evenings out barbecuing with friends or family, enjoying the weather and a more relaxed schedule, and at Fleishfest they were able to do the same thing while supporting a great local cause (and having awesome food and drinks prepared by a barbecue pit master . . .). I hope to see you next year at an even bigger, better, more exciting and enjoyable Fleishfest 2014 . . . in Yerushalayim.
Priority‑1 thanks everyone who attended and all of the great sponsors that made this event possible: Electric & Beyond, DJ Associates architect, Gourmet Glatt, Jay Lichtman P.C., NYFF events, Tropper Esrogim, Miller Realty, Mr. Promotion, and Genesis Life Insurance. For more information about the Wandering Que a.k.a. the Texas Roadside BBQ, visit www.gotcholent.com.
Priority‑1 is a registered 501(c)(3) not-for-profit educational organization that operates a high school for at-risk teen boys and provides advice and consultations to families, teachers, and students. Founded in 1987, Priority‑1 has helped thousands of teens and families, locally and from around the globe. For more information, visit www.priority‑1.org or call 516-295-5700, ext. 10. v