If you’ve been paying attention to the Portland food scene over the last several years, you’ve probably heard about Morgan St. Theater. The ice cream pop-up pairs courses of inventive ice cream desserts with storytelling, Dr. Seuss read-offs, puppeteering, and even flamenco dancing.
On paper, the pop-up reads like a Portlandia sketch, skewering our city’s twee-est side, but the events are sincere, inclusive, and, at times, even a little subversive. At a Dr. Seuss read-off, Morgan St. Theater proprietor Jared Goodman paired a reading of The Lorax with a dessert built around the flavors of coffee, chocolate, and banana—three flavors his grandchildren will never experience if we don’t collectively figure out a way to heal our planet.
Goodman says the idea for Morgan St. Theater was born out of a need for connection. While stay-at-home fatherhood was rewarding, Goodman felt stranded from other adults. He learned to make ice cream as a way to reconnect, and the storytelling and art performance pairings were vehicles toward the same goal. To Portland’s food scene, Morgan St. Theater was about delicious dessert, but to Goodman, the whole operation was built around artistic and intellectual interaction.
Those early events gave Goodman a platform, too. He appeared on OPB’s Oregon Art Beat. He’s been the guest culinary artist in residence for the Portland Art Museum, for which he explores textures and flavors based on his interpretations of art from the museum’s collection.
Now, thanks to a RACC grant, Goodman is using his pop-up to put storytelling front and center for a series of one-man shows he’s calling The Jewish Project: Portrait of a Jew Through Ice Cream and Storytelling.
Over six days in November and December, Goodman will make appearances at multiple Portland locations to tell stories about early Jewish history, what it’s like to reconnect with one’s faith, and what it’s like to almost lose it.
The timing of The Jewish Project is important. In the days following the 2016 election, Goodman felt alarmed by the actions of our nation’s newly emboldened white supremacists. Multiple Jewish cemeteries were vandalized and synagogues were tagged with swastikas. (Editor’s note: We started reporting this story before the tragic shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, but it’s an important addition to this list.)
With the sudden and frequent rise of outright hostile acts of racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism, Goodman began to reevaluate Portland and the United States as a whole. “It made me realize that there are still a lot of people in Oregon who’ve never met a Jew,” Goodman explains. “Well, I’m a Jew and I have stories to tell. And I make ice cream.”
“I’m a Jew and I have stories to tell. And I make ice cream.” -Jared Goodman
Goodman will tell three stories throughout the course of the evening. One is a famous Isaac Bashevis Singer story called “The First Schlemiel,” about an irresponsible father who tries to kill himself with jam and cider. Another is a personal story about Goodman’s high school trip to Israel, where a rabbi told him to abandon his humanist path. The third focuses on Goodman’s rediscovery of his Jewish roots through holding weekly Shabbats, and the meditative act of baking challah.
The paired desserts include pan-fried blintzes filled with lemon-buttermilk ice cream and raspberry shrub or toasted sesame seed ice cream with Bee Local smoked honey, apricot jam, and a ras el hanout tuile.
Goodman says he really wants people to come to the shows. That’s why they’re running during afternoons and evenings, allowing people with various work and family schedules to attend. He’s lowered the ticket price from Morgan St. Theater’s usual $39 ticket price to just $25. And he’s only selling the first half of tickets. The remaining half, he says, will be given away, gratis, to people who can’t afford the discounted tickets. “It’s important that if someone wants to come, they can come,” Goodman says.