Jared Goodman has grown accustomed to the skepticism: A night of storytelling and ice cream for $39 per person? In a town where you can enjoy free ballet in the park and eat shockingly complex food cheaply from a roadside cart, Goodman realizes his monthly ice cream pop-ups are a hard sell. Despite this, his Morgan St. Theater events, in which he combines storytelling and homemade ice cream, have been a huge hit in Portland, with many selling out.
Goodman, who is Jewish, is making an even bigger and riskier bet: He’s hoping to raise funds to take his ice cream show on the road to educate Oregonians—especially rural Oregonians—on Judaism and Jewishness.
This was not, Goodman tells me, the career he expected. He was born and raised in Virginia, completed his undergraduate at Bard College, and got a master’s degree in nationalism studies in Belgium. But soon after he and his wife Becky had their first child, he found himself “intellectually unfulfilled,” as he puts it, in his new role as a stay-at-home dad living in Portland. Goodman had just been gifted some recipe books and was determined to reinvent the ice cream sundae. He invited some friends over, told some stories, and—because he and his family live on Morgan Street—decided to call the event “Morgan St. Theater.”
That was in 2013. About 50 events later, the 36-year-old Goodman is now the Culinary Artist in Residency at the Portland Art Museum. He’s known for taking a piece of artwork—or a book, a character, a story—and making an ice cream based on that theme.
In April, I attended a Morgan St. Theater Seder in honor of Passover. Like many first-time attendees, I had my doubts. I even kept a pizza in the refrigerator in case his event did not fill me up. Goodman began each of the three courses of ice cream with a gripping story about a member of his family. In one, we learned about Goodman’s grandfather Maurice, who loved to make matzo. As soon as he finished the story, Goodman brought each person a bowl of ice cream with matzo toppings, something Maurice would surely have loved.
A few months later, I attended another of his events, this time a night of storytelling and ice cream based on Dr. Seuss’ books. Goodman used to tell all the stories at his events himself, but these days he partners with other local storytellers and is particularly eager to work with storytellers of color. “In the last year I’ve returned to the East Coast twice,” Goodman says. “Both visits strongly reminded me just how white Portland is, and how that is not the kind of world I want to live in or raise a family within.”
At the Dr. Seuss event, storytellers attempted to outdo each other while Goodman served such flavors as toasted sesame ice cream, spiced orange soda, and ras el hanout. I consider myself an ice cream junkie—I indulge about three times a week—but Goodman’s flavors were all unique. Many were delicious, and some were odd. Cheese on top of ice cream? It didn’t really work for me, but I loved that he was pushing us to consider ice cream in new ways. And yes, his events will fill you up.
At the moment, Goodman is at a bit of a crossroads with the direction of Morgan St. Theater. “My daughter Lena is about to start preschool and I think from time to time: 'Will she face animosity at school for being Jewish?’” he says. “I worry about her. She is only five, but she is already very vocal about being Jewish. But there is a lot of misunderstanding about Judaism and just plain ignorance. It’s sad. I mean, I’ve met people in Portland who have told me they have never met a Jewish person before.”
He is in the process of writing grants and seeking funding for what he is tentatively calling the Jewish Project, which would consist of Goodman making ice cream and telling stories across Oregon and perhaps across the US.
His thesis is that if people met a Jewish person, they might not harbor prejudices, or say cavalier and insensitive things like “Holocaust centers.” (That’s a Sean Spicer reference, for those who missed it.) But he figures this project is still a year away—until then, he has several events planned, including an upcoming Morgan St. Theater night around the theme of “the munchies” on July 27 at 8 pm.
“I have some great stoner stories to tell,” Goodman says, laughing. “But then, isn’t that what every stoner says?”
He plans to pair each story with a flavor inspired by that story, although none of the ice cream will be infused with cannabis: “It’s hard to gauge people’s level of tolerance towards edibles.”
Goodman wants to continue to challenge himself to tell more stories and to create more complex flavors. But that’s not what is tugging his heart right now. “I am Jewish. I am very Jewish. And I am proud of this,” he says. “And if I can get people to be more sensitive and informed about Jewish identity, why would I not try?”
Zahir Janmohamed is the co-host of The Racist Sandwich, a podcast about food and race. Follow on him on Twitter @raceandfood