More than 200 women gathered in the Congregations Beth Shalom ballroom Sept. 8 for Sweet Beginnings, the kickoff event for a new project of Chabad of Pittsburgh. Following the success of last year’s Loves of Loaves, Rebbetzin Chani Altein envisioned a new project, she said, “bringing groups of women together to connect over cooking by preparing a meal to give to a community cause.” This is the Love and Knaidels project.
Every month for the next year, small groups of women will meet at the Yeshiva Schools kitchen, prepare kosher meals for 10 to 20 people and then deliver them to a local organization of their choice. Each cooking session will be led by two captains who recruit their team of eight to 10 women, often their own friends. Together, the team will decide on a menu, pick an organization to benefit from their cooking and deliver the homemade meals within 24 hours. Some of the groups that have already been selected as recipients are Jewish war veterans, elderly Russians in Greenfield, the Aleph Institute and Molly’s Meals.
Sweet Beginnings was held to introduce this project to the community at large and give women who hadn’t been yet been recruited the opportunity to join in. Women entered the ballroom to find a beautiful buffet set up with salads, honey cake, apple cake and old-fashioned cooking tools. As old friends greeted each other and new friends were introduced, the room buzzed with the lively sound of women’s voices, chattering, laughing and warmly hugging each other. Tables had been set up with each place having all the necessary ingredients, recipes and tools to make, on the spot, two apple crumb cakes.
After the women at each table shared their family Rosh Hashanah traditions, Altein explained the project. Leah Herman gave a d’var Torah, which tied together cooking, memories and family love; Tanya Trestman entertained with an original musical composition. Then, under the instruction of Tammy Berkowitz of the former Sweet Tammy’s bakery, each woman poured, mixed, “crumbled” and put in pans their crumb cakes in pans, one to take home to bake and one to donate.
Aviva Lubowsky was on the event committee for Sweet Beginnings. Lubowsky loves to cook and has always been eager to cook meals for someone when needed.
“Whether there’s a birth or, God forbid, a death,” she said she is ready to jump in and cook. So she was very surprised when she recently discovered something about her great-grandmother that she had never known.
“My great-grandmother had a really strong value around always sharing food with people. Anyone who would come to her house, whether it be a service provider or someone seeking a donation, she would always want to feed them!” said Lubowsky. “It’s almost in my blood [to do this]. What a lovely opportunity to be in the kitchen together and share each other’s company while cooking food and providing it for other people in the community.”
Julie Paris is one of the team captains for Love and Knaidels.
“The idea of cooking together and doing the mitzvah of bringing food to someone else is such a powerful thing,” she said. “It’s something that we are all capable of. It doesn’t matter our religious backgrounds, where we came from, where we grew up — when we’re in the kitchen, we’re all the same. There are some barriers that come down when you’re sharing the experience of cooking, particularly cooking as a mitzvah.”
Paris emphasized that the project is about community recipients needing a warm meal, equally important is the feeling that people are caring about them.
“The group can be anyone we would like to cook for — JCC teachers, a group of Holocaust survivors, our local police station — anyone we feel would enjoy a meal and certainly deserves a meal,” she said. “Cooking together is a lot more fun than cooking alone. It’s a chance to spend three or four hours with girlfriends who you don’t get to see every day.”
Altein will be posting the recipes used and updating a blog on the project at loveandknaidels.com over the next 12 months.
Simone Shapiro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.