Sandra Tatelman, socially conscious caterer
Years ago, in winter’s midst, two sisters stood atop a hill outside their Squirrel Hill home. As cars passed, the girls pelted down snow balls. One car stopped and the girls ran inside.
“We told my mom, ‘If anyone comes to the door, say it wasn’t us,’ ” recalled Elaine Solomon. “My mom said, ‘Oh no, you’ll answer the door, and you’ll take responsibility if you did something.’”
No one came to the door, but the message was received.
Solomon’s mother, Sandra (Lander) Tatelman, passed away on Saturday, April 26. The fount of family wisdom was 76.
Wife of the late Meyer Tatelman, mother of Hannah Tatelman and Elaine Solomon, and grandmother of Roey, Gil and Noa Solomon, Tatelman, say those who knew her, was an honest and respected member of the Pittsburgh Jewish community for nearly 50 years.
Born in Boston in 1937, Tatelman was the youngest of four children and the only daughter to Rebecca and Henry Lander. At a young age, she and her family moved to Caribou, Maine, where her father operated an auto parts store. The northern New England city lacked a sizable Jewish presence.
“It was a really small place. There were two or three other Jewish families in the area,” said Solomon.
Although Tatelman did not possess an early formal Jewish education, she learned much in her mother’s kitchen.
Longtime friend and former business partner Joyce Tombasky stated, “[Tatelman’s] mother was a very good cook. She was an old-fashioned baker who made everything from scratch, like yeast coffee cake or honey cake.”
After Tatelman’s three older brothers moved to Boston, Solomon remembered traveling there for Pesach: “There would be 50 people at the Seders, and my mom, my aunt and my grandmother would do all the cooking.”
Tatelman received a B.A. from Hunter College and M.S.W. from Boston University. She worked as a social worker at Jewish Family & Children’s Services in Pittsburgh. But as time progressed, she found herself back in the kitchen.
During a 1970s teacher’s strike, Tatelman enrolled her daughters at Yeshiva Girls High School. The school’s cook had recently suffered a heart attack, so Tatelman volunteered. She was joined by Joyce Tombosky, and the two developed a friendship that lasted over 40 years.
“We cooked together for 10 years at Yeshiva,” said Tombosky.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Tatelman and Tombosky ran a catering business called T&T Catering. They undertook events for as many as 400 guests.
Eventually, Tatelman went out on her own and started Sandra’s Kosher Catering. She rented space from Shaare Torah and later moved to B’nai Emunah in Greenfield.
Elaine Levine met Tatelman at B’nai Emunah and called her “a warm and genuine kind of person.”
“She was not a superficial kind of person,” said Levine. “She was interested in forming relationships with people.”
Rabbi Joseph Weiss, formerly of B’nai Emunah, stated, “[Tatelman] was a very caring person, and that demonstrated itself in the way she interacted with people. She respected people as they were.”
For Solomon, her mother provided a stable and sincere presence.
“She was a problem solver who had a calmness,” said Solomon.
In rented kitchens, at events and in her home, Tatelman carried these traits.
Tombosky recalled a dinner party that Tatelman had hosted for several couples. The main entree was Chinese.
“She made fantastic Chinese food: egg rolls, sweet and sour chicken,” said Tombosky.
Before the entree was served, Tatelman asked her guests to raise their feet from the floor and sit tailor style above the chairs. The guests obliged. After the meal had concluded, Tatelman explained that her cats had brought a chipmunk in from outside. When she and her husband went to discard the chipmunk, they discovered that it was still alive; but before they could retrieve it, the chipmunk had escaped. Afraid that the animal would brush up against someone’s foot during the meal, Tatelman had made the seating request of her guests.
“She had worked all day and wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of her dinner,” said Tombosky with a chuckle, adding that “cooking was her passion.”
She “cooked with love and was concerned that people were satisfied,” said Weiss.
“If someone in the community needed a meal,” noted Tombosky, “she made it for them.”
Those who regularly enjoyed Tatelman’s meals included widowers, strangers and even prisoners. For years, Tatelman’s husband, Meyer, along with a group of men, traveled to Western Penitentiary to visit the inmates before Jewish holidays.
“She would make the meals and Meyer would schlepp them,” said Tombosky.
In spite of all the cooking, Tatelman never abandoned her tools as a social worker.
“She did her mentoring and social work quietly, helping people in the community work out their problems quietly and for free,” said Tombosky.
“She sincerely wanted to help someone if [that person] needed help,” added Solomon. “She was honest and direct but in a nice way.”
“She told us, ‘Do what you can do to make something better. Be a mentch, and if something is wrong, it’s wrong,’” related Solomon. “That is who she was, and that is who I’ll miss.”
(Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)