The barbecue fundraiser is an annual event at Synagogue Emanu-El west of the Ashley. This year is the sixth one, but this year it will be a little different.
That’s because organizers of this meat meet want to forge solidarity with others in the community, especially their African-American brothers and sisters in faith. So they’ve moved the event from November to Martin Luther King Jr. weekend and flung the proverbial doors wide open.
The reasoning is sound: 2016 was a tough year for the Charleston community, a year during which residents had to cope with the aftermath of two terrible events, the killing of Walter Scott by a North Charleston police officer and the mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church. A hung jury in the trial of former police officer Michael Slager left that case unresolved, and self-proclaimed white supremacist Dylann Roof made daily appearances in the news media during his trial in which he was found guilty.
But closure has not yet been achieved. Slager will be retried in March, and Roof has appeared once again on TV screens and in the pages of the newspaper during the sentencing phase of his trial.
Even when the trials are done, Walter Scott’s family and the families of the nine victims of the church shooting will never get their loved ones back.
So the Conservative synagogue wants to do more than just gather its members to cook, eat and drink and raise a little money. “We want to pull Charleston back together,” said event organizer Linda Krawcheck said.
The barbecue, formally known as Jews and Brews, will include representatives of all local Jewish organizations in town as well as participants from St. Matthew Baptist Church in North Charleston and the International African American Museum, organizers said. It is planned for 3:30-6:30 p.m. Jan. 15 at the synagogue, 5 Windsor Drive.
A total of 17 barbecue teams — two from Chabad, seven from Emanu-El, and one each from the many other participants — will compete for a $500 prize. Each team pays $300 for the privilege, but that cost includes kosher meat and seasonings.
On the menu: brisket, beef ribs, chicken and salmon. Brisket preparers will get started the eve of the event, after sundown (signifying the end of the Sabbath) preparing the meat for a slow, overnight, low-heat grilling, Krawcheck said. An overseer will ensure that kosher rules are followed. Non-brisket cookers will start that Sunday morning.
Tickets cost $75 each, and the price includes full bar options. (Everyone has to be at least 21 to go, Krawcheck said.) A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the International African American Museum, organizers said. Members of Emanuel AME Church get in free.
A DJ will play music. And a panel of five judges will assess the barbecue results. “This year our theme is, ‘It’s good to live in America,’” Krawcheck said. “Everything will be all red, white and blue.”
Jacopo Mintzer, president of Synagogue Emanu-El, said he is aware of the many superficial efforts to “bridge the cultural divide” and foster unity. He doesn’t want this event to be merely well-intentioned.
Citing Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who was active in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and marched alongside Martin Luther King, Mintzer said the synagogue is committed to assisting the African American Museum.
“We expect to work with them for years to come,” he said. “This is the beginning of a process, not an event unto itself.”
His colleague at Roper-St. Francis Healthcare, the new vice president for diversity Toni Flowers, volunteered to serve as a cultural ambassador, Mintzer said.
He also celebrated the fact that so many Jewish institutions — Addlestone Hebrew Academy, Charleston Jewish Federation, all four synagogues and Chabad of Charleston and the Low Country — were involved. It can take a lot to herd the cats, he said.
“To come together takes an effort, and therefore we are grateful that all Jewish institutions and African-American institutions were willing to broach cultural differences to come together and celebrate MLK,” Mintzer said.
Michael Moore, CEO and president of the International African-American Museum, said he was glad for the opportunity to join the event.
"On its face obviously it’s a nice thing, who doesn’t like BBQ?" Moore said. "But I was really impressed with the warmth of their invitation and the aspiration of creating broader connections, which I think are so healthy and productive."
He said the museum is about three years away from its planned opening in late 2019 and much has yet to be done — about the architecture and design, contents and programming. But all that is just half the battle.
"We also really have to invest in building relationships in Charleston, South Carolina and really throughout the country," he said. So the barbecue, a relatively modest opportunity to bring people together, represents a welcomed chance to do that.
Moore said he looks forward to healthy collaboration with the Jewish community.
"Historically in this country ... there has been meaningful collaborations there, and I obviously look forward to rekindling the kind of connections that can be productive," he said. "Many museums are solely focused on looking back at what happened and chronicling the past. We see ourselves having a real contemporary mission around social justice. ... I would love for us to have a really strong and vibrant collaboration with the Jewish community. On its face it’s a barbecue, it’s a competition. But there’s so much more potential to this. And that’s what I’m focused on and really excited about."
Ruthie Simmons, executive director of Synagogue Emanu-El, said the barbecue event is an important countermeasure to demonstrate Charleston’s famed tolerance and hospitality.
“This year, Charleston has been getting so many negative comments, the world thinking we’re such a racist city, especially with the Slager and Roof trials. So we got together and decided that if no one else steps up, that’s OK. Synagogue Emanu-El wanted to step up.”
The temple is opening its doors to everyone, Simmons said.