United By Food
Dedicated volunteers fuel Kiddush luncheons.
Next time you make your way down a Kiddush luncheon line, consider all the meticulous planning that goes into its preparation. A Kiddush may be as simple as plates of cookies or bagels and shmears, or as elaborate as a spread that features hot entrees, including a hearty cholent.
Throughout Metro Detroit, dwindling yet dedicated groups of volunteers take time out of their busy lives to plan, shop and cook for their synagogue each week. They do this out of joy because they understand that, for the Jewish community, sharing a meal together after prayers nourishes the soul as well as the body.
In generations past, preparing Kiddush fell squarely on the shoulders of a congregation’s sisterhood. As women joined the workforce, many congregations now rely on caterers or professional services to feed hungry worshippers.
Growing up, Judy Broder Goldsmith of Huntington Woods had fond childhood memories of helping and watching her mother cook at B’nai Moshe. Now she and her husband are regular attendees at the Woodward Avenue Shul in Royal Oak, where each week she assists Rabbi Chanoch Hadar in preparing various cholents and salads.
Hadar is as much a foodie as he is the congregational leader for this traditional Orthodox congregation. He has been feeding people on Shabbat out of the shul’s tiny basement kitchen since it opened its doors in 2004. His congregation is fond of cholent, that long-simmering Shabbat stew. On a typical Saturday morning, he will serve two or three varieties, from mild to spicy and meaty or vegetarian, to satisfy the 40-60 shul attendees each week — or up to 100 for bar mitzvahs or other occasions. With no paid membership, the shul relies on sponsors to fund lunch.
“I have made a commitment to do this every week,” Goldsmith said. “I only missed a week here or there when I was sick, but I was grateful another volunteer stepped in. I have [the cholent making] down to a science and am happy to help out this creative and wonderful community.”
Also assisting in the kitchen from time to time are Chef Cari Herskovitz, a local kosher caterer, and Chef Keith Sirlin, a full-time lawyer who graduated from Schoolcraft College’s culinary program in 2015. Sirlin’s love of cooking traces back to watching his mom cook in the kitchen of B’nai Israel, when the Conservative congregation was based in Pontiac.
“I was one of those strange 9-year-old kids who not only liked eggplant, but also knew several ways how to prepare it,” he said.
Some Kiddush specialties Sirlin likes to rave about: eggplant caponata, pasta and pesto, salad with a fresh shallot vinaigrette and, in the summer, homemade Italian shaved ice.
From a young age, Sirlin says he learned from his parents the important Jewish value of serving in congregational life. Though not part of the Orthodox community, Sirlin said the best way to fulfill his obligation to the synagogue is through his culinary skills. In addition to preparing meals, he carefully shops for the ingredients as instructed by Rabbi Hadar for specific kosher certifications. During the warmer months, he brings fresh herbs from his garden to add homegrown flavor.
“I like to think that by taking care of things back in the kitchen, I can help the rabbi devote his energies to serving his congregation from the more ritual side of things,” said Sirlin, who recalls when it was unheard of for a man to help in a synagogue kitchen. “You make lots of people very happy by cooking them a great meal they really enjoy.”
“Best Kiddush In Town”
For 15 years, Ruth Shayne of Farmington Hills coordinated the Kiddush at Congregation B’nai Moshe in West Bloomfield and took pride in serving up what she called “the best Kiddush in town.”
Breaking away from the usual fare of tuna and egg salad on bagels, Shayne expanded the synagogue’s Kiddush offerings to various types of salads, blintz souffles, kugels and desserts. With her “little club” of Kiddush volunteers, she created themed menus such as red, white and blue foods for July 4 or a Mexican buffet around Cinco de Mayo. And she added foods that would align with congregants’ dietary needs, including diabetics or those with lactose or gluten sensitivities.
Shayne said she welcomed helpers of all ages — from an artist who once fixed an errant name on a birthday cake, to teen helpers who like to set out dessert platters.
“When you set up tables and chairs and put out a nice meal after services, people tend to linger and stay longer on a Saturday morning,” Shayne said.
As the congregation has aged, Shayne said congregants not only volunteer to cook, but also to drive older members to services so they can be with the congregation during and after services.
“Bringing them to a nice Kiddush lunch makes them feel less isolated,” she said.
“I truly believe that volunteering to prepare this meal is a true and valued service to our community. Making Kiddush lunch was like cooking for my extended family, like serving a meal from my own home but on a much larger scale.”
When Shayne stepped down about three years ago to work more in the synagogue’s office, her friend and co-Kiddush planner Carol Pollack of West Bloomfield took over. The retired vice president at Comerica Bank said she enjoys serving her congregation this way because it keeps her busy. She shops on Wednesdays and cooks on Thursdays or Friday mornings, all the while looking for extra volunteers.
“People are very well-meaning and extend offers to help, but they are often overcommitted and some don’t show,” Pollack said. “Still, there are a handful of us that keep things running with a well-developed schedule and system.”
Sharing A Kitchen
While most congregations work out of the kitchens in their own buildings, congregations that share a building — and a kitchen — with another learn to work out challenges such as kashrut. When Reform Temple Kol Ami welcomed Conservative B’nai Israel (BI) into its West Bloomfield building, the BI congregants developed ways to prepare kosher meals in a non-kosher kitchen.
The congregation has special basins for the sink, keeps its own pantry, pots, pans and utensils, covers counters before preparing food, and double wraps food that bakes in the oven. Because of kashrut reasons, they do not use the temple’s stove.
At the helm of the BI Kiddush volunteer brigade are husband-and-wife team Roxane and Brian Newhouse of West Bloomfield. Week after week, they work tirelessly to make sure the week’s shopping is complete by Thursday, that challot and rolls are picked up on Fridays, and that a crew is ready to prepare the meal on Thursdays and Fridays and it is ready to go by 9:30 on Shabbat morning.
“When B’nai Israel moved into the Kol Ami building, a need arose for someone to volunteer in the kitchen, and I said Brian and I could help,” Newhouse said. “One thing led to another, and now I have it down to a science.”
When volunteers arrive on Saturday morning, the tuna and egg salads have already been prepared and the oven is hot to heat an entree. Volunteers that morning spend most of their time cutting fruit and vegetables, tossing a green salad and placing cookies or pastries on a platter.
After each dish is prepared, the volunteer places a star (no writing on Shabbat) on a prepared checklist on the refrigerator. After the meal, the same crew will clear the buffet line, wash dishes and pack up leftovers for the Sunday morning minyan.
Newhouse said the friendship and camaraderie that blossom over all this chopping and mixing and then coming together after services to eat a meal are what make her synagogue so special to her.
“As a congregation, this is who we are,” she said. “It is a wonderful thing to sit down, to talk and socialize and have a meal.”
Newhouse said sometimes the volunteer crew is a bit thin. For example, last summer, several women went for a getaway weekend Up North. But, in the true egalitarian fashion of the congregation, the husbands offered to help in the kitchen.
While some congregations come together to prepare entire meals, others like Congregation T’chiyah of Oak Park go the pot-luck route. At the 35-year-old Reconstructionist synagogue, services alternate at T’chiyah between Friday nights and Saturday mornings. It is the responsibility of members to provide food — sometimes just a small nosh, other times a full vegetarian meal — on a rotating basis
Peter Cooper, 63, of Oak Park, a member of the congregation for 15 years, said his matzah ball soup has been a mainstay at Passover gatherings. Other congregants have cooked up a vegetarian collard greens dish that has been popular.
“No matter your level of observance, for Jews, food is the thing that unites us.” *
By Stacy Gittleman, JN Contributing Writer