Hold the Mustard: In Fact, Hold the Entire Deli Days 

Idaho's Jewish Festival pauses for a year

Each June, Boiseans begin yearning for corned beef and pastrami sandwiches; puffy knishes; sweet, pillowy challah bread and endless varieties of desserts. It's the three-decade long tradition of Deli Days at Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel—one of the oldest active synagogues west of the Mississippi—to provide all that and more. Each year, the festival unveiled a first-class kosher menu, bringing flavors "straight from the Bronx" all the way to Idaho. But this year, the Idaho Jewish Festival is taking a recess. And one of the big reasons, ironically, is its popularity with a rapidly-expanding Treasure Valley population.

"While the event and our customer base keeps growing, our actual synagogue membership doesn't grow by nearly as much," said Amy Duque, Vice President of Ahavath Beth Israel's Executive Committee.

Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel, then on State Street, began hosting Idaho's Jewish Festival in the 1980s, selling hot dogs out of a tiny basement. As the City of Trees grew, so too did the festival, evolving into one of Boise's most popular summertime traditions. Organizers even began taking preorders and offering delivery to accommodate hungry customers. In the past few years of Deli Days, the event attracted more than 4,000 visitors to the synagogue, now nestled in a Boise Bench neighborhood.

"As [Deli Days] needs to get bigger to accommodate all the new customers, we really don't have enough people to make the event bigger. It kind of got a little bit out of our hands, in that way," said Duque.

This year's Deli Days hiatus appears to be proof of a recent Forbes Magazine estimate, which named Boise America's fastest-growing city. Despite its success in bringing the Treasure Valley closer to Jewish culture, Duques said the congregation has not quite reaped all of the benefits of Deli Days as a vehicle for fundraising. It was a typical case of supply not reaching demand: as the festival grew and the congregation population remained stable, members became buried in volunteer hours.

"Not that it's purely a financial decision, but we just have to figure out a way to have an event that's more efficient for us to stage as a small congregation—we're just a victim of our own success," Duque said. "We don't want to bite off more than we can chew."

But don't worry: Duque and CABI's Executive Board expect Deli Days to make a comeback. There aren't any set plans yet, but Duque emphasized the hiatus is strictly to evaluate and strategize for future festivals.

"We really don't want to disappoint anyone, but we just need to fix it and we'll be back," Duque said. "What I really want to convey is that the synagogue loves bringing Boise onto the property for an event and having that tie with the community."


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