Noa Berman-Herzberg, aka, the Serial Pickler, hosts unexpected evenings brewing in possibility.
Words by Elianna Bar-El
Photos by Noa Berman-Herzberg
“Philosophically and metaphorically, everything that happened during Covid was a kind of fermentation,” Noa Berman-Herzberg explains. “You know, putting veggies or fruits in a jar, letting it sit with itself for however long - a little aquarium of its own making. We were all so isolated, locked in, and forced to process a lot of things.” At her core, Berman-Herzberg is a screenwriter, a “script doctor” and a writing teacher at the Screen Based Arts Department at Bezalel Academy of Arts in Jerusalem for the past 16 years. But six years ago, while hosting a workshop on character-building in cinema at New York’s School of Visual Arts, she literally and figuratively dreamt up an alter ego that she just couldn’t shake. “I went to the city for two weeks on my own and it was when fermentation was really starting to trend in America,” she explains. “The shelves at Barnes and Noble were stocked with books on the subject and I thought…something is going on. I dove deep. I tasted everything, read everything. I had a dream one night before I left and woke up with the name ‘Serial Pickler’ (machmitza sidratit in Hebrew). In my mind, it was a character in something I would write.” In Hebrew, the verb to pickle has a double meaning, and together with ‘serial’ creates a play on words best translated as ‘missing out’ on something, as in, a road not taken. Everything kind of falls into that categorical concept of something gone sour: things that never got produced, business proposals that fell through. Wedding proposals that bit the bullet.
Berman-Herzberg went back to Israel with an itch. “I’ve always cooked. I am a feeder, it’s my thing. And I am always inventing events. I am a gatherer. This has always been a part of me,” Berman-Herzberg relays. “So I came back from New York possessed and continued on a spree of
pickling and fermenting like crazy. Then Corona just took it
to a whole new level. The eye opener was rice vinegar. I grew up on my mom’s pickles. Classic, dill pickles and fermented cabbage. The store-bought vinegar pickles of my childhood were bad. Nobody wanted them. I tried every vinegar on the market. I realized that rice vinegar is soft and social. It gives respect to whatever you put in it, it is delicate and happy with spices. This was when I understood the infinite possibilities and creativity of pickling and fermentation.”
Today, about 100 jars sprawl the length of Berman-Herzberg’s Tel Aviv kitchen, in various nooks, with extras hidden in secret places away from her impatient, prying taste buds. The ultimate pickling flex: a custom-made shelf on full display in the kitchen’s prime real estate, lined with air tight glass jars upon more jars. Everything from spicy pickled pineapples doused in three kinds of chiles to nectarines seasoned with anise star, cardamon, goji berries and four season pepper which sit next to pickled eggs transformed into bright magenta orbs, having been steeped in borscht for days. And every other amalgamation Berman-Herzberg can conjure up.
“There is something very comforting about food that lasts, and witnessing the process of it all. It is empowering,” Berman-Herzberg says. “You can be very good at it even if you aren’t a good cook. It is an entirely different skill - and one that shows.” But Berman-Herzberg could have never guessed what would eventually come of her love of fermenting. She started hosting friends to try out the fruits of her labor and that somersaulted into full-blown evenings dedicated to her ‘Serial Pickler’ namesake, with a twist. She began by inviting complete strangers over, some friends of friends, some who had found her on Instagram and invited themselves. Each person attending an evening is required to tell a story. Something that they have ‘missed out on’ that has made an impact on the course of their life.
So far Berman-Herzberg, has hosted 32 events and heard give or take 500 stories through her ‘Sour Food-Sour Stories’ evenings. “I hosted the first evening in 2017,” Berman-Herzberg says. “As a woman who thinks she has missed out on so many things, the minute I figured out this persona, this alter-ego, it has become the easiest thing in my life. I have so many stories of getting cold feet. Of adventures taken - or not. Of putting relationships on the back burner, thinking ‘I will call him at some point…oh, wait, he died in the meantime.’ I thought, okay, I must not be the only one.” Ultimately, the common denominator, the ever-so-thin thread that weaves itself through every stranger’s story is: Could I have done something differently?
The evenings took off and Berman-Herzberg became the talk of the town, invited by all different kinds of forums and organizations to host ‘Sour Food-Sour Stories’, including a memorable week-long happening in Istanbul arranged by the Israeli Cultural Council.
“The evenings are not a business, they never have been,” she emphasizes. “They are a barter. I give you food, you give me some of your sour stories and your heart. Bring a bottle of gin. Or two pineapples (because I love pickled pineapples). I really believe that once you open your pocket, you close your heart. The benefit of these evenings is bringing people back the kind of pure communication that creates magic; of asking questions and hearing answers of what it means to be a human being. People arrive with a resolute decision to keep themselves in one piece, not to open up as much or tell something that would reveal their dark side. But this is a womb-like experience. You are nourished. You are warm, and quite quickly you feel safe…and then you are willing to give and receive.”