On the Candleschtick Blog, we have been clear from the start: We love food.
Alison, Mia, and I have shared many Jewish-food moments. Our memories of holiday celebrations, a few latke-frying fiascos, and many kugel recipes have inspired our designs and our aim to celebrate a connection to Jewish culture.
We were thrilled (serious understatement) for the chance to learn more about Lehrhaus, a new Jewish tavern and learning space in Somerville, Massachusetts - right in our own backyard!
Rabbi Charlie Schwartz, a leader in Jewish educational content development for Hillel International, BIMA/Genesis at Brandeis University, JTS, and co-founder of Not-a-Box Media Lab, together with Joshua Foer, a best-selling author, journalist, and co-founder of Atlas Obscura and Sefaria, have opened doors to a venture that provides locals a new lounge...for learning.
With a true Jewish-foodie menu offering specialties such as “Savory Ricotta Tashen” and a drinks list including “House of Dan,” Lehrhaus is not your average alehouse. Torah study, classes, live speakers, and an impressive library make Lehrhaus a true gathering space, welcoming people to connect (and nosh!) while exploring Jewish culture and history.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Rabbi Schwartz and learning more about this exciting addition to Boston’s bistro scene. Below are excerpts from our conversation.
The Lehrhaus back story:
“Lehrhaus was really kind of born in the depths of the pandemic,” Charlie explains. During the 2020 lockdowns, Charlie and friend/co-founder Josh Foer imagined post-pandemic life and predicted a renewed desire for gathering and connection. “The idea of a joyful, Jewish vibrant space emerged…dedicated to food and drink and learning.”
Historically, drawing from the Franz Rosenzweig and Martin Buber Lehrhaus concepts from the 1920s (also post-pandemic ponderings), the founders took the German Lehrhaus lecture and study format and “...updated it to the now.” After WWI and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918, “Rosenzweig thinks about what a Jewish world needs …and it’s a return to learning,” making Jewish practice “applicable and engaging and taught by everyone.” Charlie’s background in community building and placemaking helped him develop these ideas into an inviting tavern environment with a focus on food reflecting the Jewish diaspora and programming to explore topics from Talmud to Punk Rock.
On developing a house of learning:
“We have three anchor partners Hadar, Hartman, and Hebrew College. All three are exceptional institutions doing amazing things.” Charlie notes the common thread is popularizing “hevrutah,” (simply defined: the Jewish tradition of study among peers). “We are looking around to determine who is experimenting with hevrutah and who’s doing it well,” and how that can be incorporated into programming.
A variety of offerings are planned for fall including special classes for Rosh Hashanah in September, as well as an OktoberFest celebrating German-Jewish life and culture highlighted with beer and food specials.
After a recent sell-out event with author Steven Lee Beeber (Heebie Jeebies at CBGBs, Chicago Review Press 2006) on the Jewish history of Punk music, Lehrhaus continues to explore ways of engaging with Judaism from unexpected angles. Charlie notes that the evening was so well received that staff “came up with an all-Jewish Punk playlist…on-theme drinks and food specials…and it really turned into quite the party.”
More about the menu….
With Noah Clickstein (Juliet, L’Espalier) and Alex Atrinian (Culinary Institute of America) as chefs, Michael Leviton (esteemed chef of Lumiere with multiple James Beard award nominations) as Culinary Advisor, and Naomi Levy (award-winning bar and restaurant consultant) designing the bar program, the Lehrhaus team collaborates on a menu that tells a “distinctly Jewish story.” Charlie explains, “...We wanted food that was approachable, delicious and crave-able,” and broadly speaking, telling the story of the Jewish diaspora, “...pulling on those traditions and foodways,” while pushing beyond that.
Example Given? Mac & Cheese Kugel.
Other inspired dishes? Fish and Chips served with Old Bay seasoned fries, “...pulling from the tradition of fried fish and Old Bay being invented by a refugee of the Holocaust. We serve it with Amba vinegar…Amba being a great fermented mango sauce that Iraqi Jews brought back from India…served in the place of malt vinegar.”
Reimagining food combinations and traditions in a modern context is clearly the house special.
“On this, we like to say that you don’t have to be French to come to a French restaurant… and you don't have to be Jewish to go to a Jewish tavern…We’re trying to broadly appeal and put the best of the Jewish community forward…making Lehrhaus approachable and accessible and a place that people want to spend time in…The French restaurant / Jewish Tavern analogy is a strong one - but where it falls apart is that French restaurant is a well-defined genre and Jewish Tavern is not a ‘thing’... which is fun because then we can play it in terms of how we think about the space and offerings.”
We at Candleschtick look forward to more from this talented and inspired group…and are excited that “Jewish Tavern” has entered the vernacular…We think it will definitely become a “thing.” L’Chaim!
Looking to learn more? Check out our video and the links to Lehrhaus below.
Lehrhaus Tavern is located at 425 Washington Street Somerville, MA
Sunday: 4:30- 9:00pm
Mon-Thurs: 4:30- 10:00pm
Candleschtick Lightning Round with Charlie:
Favorite Yiddish Word: Ferschtunken (stinky)
Potato or Lokshen: Lockshen (noodle kugel)
Favorite traditional Jewish holiday food: Gefilte Fish
A personal favorite from the Lehrhaus menu? (Read: “What should we order?”):
The Herring Tartine…(For more on the herring…and other topics…check our video).