A Shabbat meal left for those in need


On a recent Thursday evening, instead of reading a book or watching a movie at home with her children, Stacy Kent brought her daughter, Rayna, 9, and son, Ami, 7, to a warehouse on the corner of Pico Boulevard and Wetherly Drive.

Their mission: Help make Shabbat, well, Shabbat for local families in need of assistance by packing boxes full of food.

That’s what the volunteers of Tomchei Shabbos of Los Angeles (tomcheishabbos.org) have been doing for 36 years. Every Thursday at 6 p.m. sharp, dozens of people rush around the group’s small warehouse at 9041 W. Pico Blvd. Some are packing food, some are making boxes, and some are coordinating where filled boxes go. In the hustle and bustle of the Pico-Robertson warehouse, kosher Shabbat staples — challah, grape juice, chicken, rice, fruits, vegetables — are placed into boxes, which are given to families that apply and meet Tomchei Shabbos’ income qualifications to receive Shabbat assistance. Because there are no other organizations that can meet the needs of families that only eat kosher food, Tomchei Shabbos restricts its clientele to families that are strictly kosher, said Steve Berger, who runs the group.

Tomchei Shabbos, literally “supporters of the Sabbath,” was formed in 1977 by three local rabbis. The nonprofit staffed entirely by volunteers now has a $2 million annual budget provided completely through donations and delivers food to about 120 families every week. In a span of 60 to 90 minutes, thanks to an operation fine-tuned over three decades, volunteers pack about 400 chickens, 350 bags of challah and 200 bottles of grape juice.

The group has another location, which operates out of the parking lot of Adat Yeshurun Valley Sephardic Congregation in North Hollywood, to serve families in the San Fernando Valley. 

And there are other offerings, too: Brides worried about breaking the bank can contact Tomchei Shabbos about the dozens of elegant gowns in its warehouse. Families struggling to raise children can purchase diapers at a reduced cost. And the organization provides used furniture and household appliances, among other things, to those in need.

For the weekly Shabbat operation, just who receives the goods is unknown to most involved in the process, as the organization is adamant that the identity of its recipients remains undisclosed. On every box is a sticker with a route number and a family identification number. Only a handful of people involved in the administration of the food know who receives assistance. The volunteers who pack the food have no clue who will benefit from their assistance.

“We leave the food at the front door and we do not introduce ourselves or deal with the recipients,” said Kent, who has been a volunteer for 10 years.

Anyone can come by on a Thursday evening, and Tomchei Shabbos’ staff will immediately put them to work. Stick around long enough and regulars may eventually be coordinating which boxes go where. 

Case in point: Gabriel Sasson, who will be a freshman at UC Irvine this fall. He started with Tomchei Shabbos two years ago packing boxes to the brim with food. He quickly rose through the ranks and now coordinates the section of the warehouse where families (or their friends) come to pick up filled boxes — good managerial experience for a 17-year-old.

After 7 p.m., the warehouse emptied out and the volunteer drivers were on their delivery runs. That’s when Berger, who like an air traffic controller helps direct Tomchei Shabbos’ many moving parts — people and boxes — reflected on the obligation for Jews to help other Jews in need. 

“The world stands, according to Pirkei Avot, on three pillars — study of Torah, worship and acts of kindness.”

A young chef’s guide to the Rosh Hashanah meal


Considering the history of the Jewish people, the fact that Jews are still celebrating the High Holy Days today is a miracle in itself. Strong traditions and lasting rituals have enabled Jews to survive the most threatening periods of history. With the freedoms we have as modern American Jews, it makes sense that we use these same traditions and rituals to enjoy holidays to the fullest. As a chef and registered foodie, the best way I know to relish in the upcoming holidays is by making really delicious food. My plan for this year is to make a multi-course feast that pays homage to great Jewish eating traditions while at the same time represents me and my life as a Jewish chef in Los Angeles.

Watching friends and family nod their heads and smile as they eat the food you have prepared is unbelievably soul-satisfying. It is a great feeling to know that the meal you cooked has enriched the High Holy Day experience for those you love. Great food is part of the equation in making a great meal, but the experience is made complete when you also have time to enjoy the company of friends and family. In order to accomplish this, I turn to the motto of my alma mater, the Culinary Institute of America, which states, “Preparation is everything.” Creating a strategy and timeline for a feast at home for guests will enable you as the cook to make great food and eat it too. Mise en place is a cooking term that means “to put into place.” It is what every chef must learn in order to master the craft of cooking. Mise en place represents the prep work done in advance of a meal and the strategy for serving it. If you are going to make the High Holy Day meal of a lifetime and still enjoy eating it, you must first focus on making a prep plan as to when the components of the meal will be made, and a strategy for how to serve the meal. This is what I will discuss as I go through my menu for the holidays.

My first course is Olive Oil Poached Sardine Fillets and Fried Heads With Lemon and Parsley Chips. Serving the fish heads, or the “rosh,” for the holidays has traditionally been a symbol for the fact that we have reached the head of the year, and also the head of life, rather than the tail. Some Jews serve whole fish so there will be a head on the table during dinner. Using this tradition as inspiration, I decided to serve fried sardine heads along with the fillets. Even though this is the first course, it should be last in the prep schedule. Ideally, purchase the fish as close to serving the meal as possible, so that it is at its freshest. The sardines should be cleaned and cooked shortly before serving. Last, they should be eaten immediately after cooking to maximize flavor.

The next course is Chilled Honey-Cucumber Soup. My wife and I own the M.O. Eggrolls food truck in Los Angeles. We are coming to the end of our first summer in business, and it has been a fantastic adventure. Along with the excitement and joy of running our truck comes the fact that we have been hot since April. Between the cooking equipment and the warm California sunshine, our truck heats up. This year, while I am relaxing and enjoying our High Holy Day feast, I want to eat something cool. Cucumber is a cooling ingredient and when paired with honey in a soup takes on a familiar homey sweetness that many Jews would associate with Rosh Hashanah. Along with being tasty, this chilled soup relieves a tremendous amount of stress, because everything can be made the day before, and to serve, it is simply poured into bowls and garnished.

Most chefs begin their careers working “the line.” This refers to the line of equipment in restaurant kitchens, where cooks are divided by stations and are responsible for cooking different items on the restaurant’s menu. Typically, stations are divided by the equipment each cook is responsible for, such as grill, sauté, fry, etc. This is the training ground for all chefs. You must prepare a variety of dishes as quickly as possible, while maintaining the highest-quality standards. The only way to survive the line is with impeccable mise en place.

Approaching a family meal at home as a line cook will enable you to cook a great meal and then have time to enjoy the company of your friends and family.  For the main course, I am serving Apples and Honey Chicken along with Smashed Sweet Potatoes and a Warm Kale-and-Fennel Slaw. Braised chicken is ideal for serving large groups hot food that is tender, moist and flavorful. I prepare all of the ingredients for the chicken the day before. The day of the dinner, I begin to cook the chicken in the early afternoon and let it cook slowly until I am ready to serve it.

The ingredients for the slaw are also prepared the day before, and I create a kit for the dressing. Kitting a recipe is a pillar of the Culinary Institute of America’s curriculum. It means that I have the ingredients for a recipe portioned and organized so that I can quickly assemble the dish when needed. By kitting the dressing, I am able to easily prepare the slaw near the time of serving it without stress. The last component of the entrée is the smashed sweet potatoes. Mashed preparations, like potatoes or squash, can be held in a heat-resistant bowl, covered in plastic wrap on top of a double boiler for long periods of time without compromising its quality. I prepare the sweet potatoes before my family and friends arrive and hold them over a double boiler until I am ready to serve them. Limiting the number of steps I have to take after family has arrived allows me time during the meal to sit with them and enjoy the food and their company.

After a great feast, I prefer a dessert that is petite and pairs well with fine coffee and schnapps. This year I am serving Honey-Olive Oil Cookies with Thyme and Fleur de Sel. The olive oil gives the cookie a biscuit-like texture that pleasantly dries the mouth and creates a craving for something to drink. Relaxing at the end of a holiday meal with the people I love and sharing cookies and schnapps is a tradition that helps me celebrate Jewish life. I hope that you will feel empowered to continue developing your own great Jewish culinary traditions for your friends and family.

I wish you all a delicious and sweet new year. L’shanah tovah!

Atoning for the sin of rushing dinner to get to Kol Nidre


I consider Yom Kippur eve the sandwich holiday. Not because I would ever serve my family and friends sandwiches before going to synagogue on the eve of a solemn fast. I see the start of Yom Kippur this way, because it’s sandwiched between two days of Rosh Hashanah celebrations and the Day of Atonement. Not to mention the eight-day festival of Sukkot, which rushes in four days later.
 
With the emphasis that night, as it should be, on getting to Kol Nidre services on time, sometimes little thought is given to this very important meal whose menu should be in perfect balance to ready people for the fast ahead. Ideally dinner on Yom Kippur eve should be hearty but light, nourishing but satisfying, tasty but not too luxurious. The challenge is daunting at a time when school and fall activities have just begun, and the Jewish calendar is so full.
 
I recall one year when I was still peeling potatoes an hour before eight people were expected for dinner on erev Yom Kippur. I panicked, fearing that we’d never get to Kol Nidre services on time.
 
Fortunately my husband always comes to the rescue whenever I’m in a jam. He microwaved the potatoes, threw together a salad and broke into a sweat basting the chicken. I set the table, barking orders, as our 9-year-old daughter scampered to her room to avoid my tension. I swore I’d never do that again. Since then, I’ve given much thought to organizing this special dinner to save time, lower stress and serve foods that will facilitate a meaningful fast.

 
With Yom Kippur beginning this year on a Sunday night, people who observe the Sabbath have additional considerations. If possible, they should complete the bulk of their organizing and food preparation by Thursday, leaving Friday free to focus on Shabbat cooking. After Friday evening, their next opportunity to address the Yom Kippur eve meal is Sunday morning, when the countdown begins. Although I’m embarrassed to admit it, I’ve solved this dilemma by imitating a staple of women’s magazines — the make-ahead menu. The day after Rosh Hashanah, while I’m sipping coffee and drizzling honey over a piece of challah, I start planning for Yom Kippur eve. I fine-tune my menu and compose a shopping list.

 
On each of the following days, I prepare a dish and freeze it, or I make most of the steps in the directions, refrigerating foods until I’m ready to proceed. On the day of Yom Kippur eve, I have only a few last-minute touches to handle. I glide into the holiday with a sense of serenity, a far cry from the frenzied person I used to be. For peace of mind, I now serve the same menu every Yom Kippur eve. It meets my most important criteria: healthy, appealing and easy to execute. This menu can be expanded to include additional dishes, but it’s filling enough to stand alone.
 
Inspired by Greek Jews, who often partake in stewed chicken and tomatoes before the Yom Kippur fast, I created my own version of this traditional dish. The chicken is sautéed and then poached in plum tomatoes, which simmer into a sauce that moistens the chicken. However, this dish is fairly bland and doesn’t cause undue thirst the next day. The ample tomato sauce calls for a bed of rice. Throughout the world, chicken and rice are served on Yom Kippur eve, because they are filling and easy to digest. However, many people, particularly when pressed for time, have difficulty finessing rice, which needs some tender loving care. They end up with a sticky ball of starch, rather than a pot of fluffy rice. My recipe, relying on a bit of olive oil, comes out perfectly every time.
 
Roasted Autumn Root Vegetables are a medley of seasonal produce flash-cooked at a high temperature. You can prepare this dish three days in advance, finishing it quickly just minutes before serving dinner.
 
Filled with dried fruits, flakes of oatmeal and a dollop of honey, Baked Stuffed Apples is not an indulgent dessert. For that reason, it’s a nutritious and appropriate way to end the pre-fast meal.
 
When it comes to Yom Kippur eve, my motto is to do as much as possible as soon as it’s feasible. On the morning after Rosh Hashanah, finalize your Yom Kippur eve guest list. Decide what you want to serve. Select which linens you will place on the table. White is traditional on Yom Kippur. If you’re using the tablecloth and napkins from Rosh Hashanah meals, make sure they’re washed and ironed or back from the dry cleaner on time.
 
If you’re expecting a crowd, you may have to expand your dining table. Know in advance how many leaves you’ll require. If you need a folding table, make sure it’s clean and in good condition. If you have to borrow a table and chairs from a family member or friend, organize this well in advance.
 
I suggest setting the table after breakfast that morning. Eat lunch in your kitchen or on the living room coffee table. To make life easy, order a pizza. Although it goes against my creative nature to be repetitive, under certain circumstances, it makes sense.
 
On Yom Kippur eve, I’m a big proponent of the preset menu, one you can follow year after year. Select a combination of recipes you can manage. Of course you can make reasonable substitutions, such as casseroles or other make-ahead dishes. But with so much going on, Yom Kippur eve is not the time to strike a new course or leave things to chance. It’s the time to be methodical and calm, to guide yourself and your family into a peaceful fast.
 

Poached Chicken Breasts and Tomatoes

 
3 tablespoons olive oil, or more if needed

Calendar


The Jewish Journal is no longer accepting mailed or faxed event listing information. Please e-mail event listings at least three
weeks in advance to: calendar@jewishjournal.com.

By Keren Engelberg

Calendar

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SHABBAT

Valley Beth Shalom Sisterhood:

9 a.m. Women’s Minyan with the theme “The Flame and the Soul: Reflecting God’s Light.” 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 343-3078.

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LECTURES

Jewish Artists Initiative of Southern California: 2-4 p.m. “Jewish Sources: Space, Time and Memory” panel discussion on “Too Jewish – Not Jewish Enough: Jewish Art in the Art World.” Jewish Federation, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 740-3405.

Kehillat Ma’arav: 7:30 p.m. Trudi Alexi speaks on “Spain and the Jews: A Paradoxical Relationship.” $10-$12. 1715 21st St., Santa Monica. (310) 829-0566.

EVENTS

Sinai Temple: 12:30-4 p.m. (Sun.) and 8:30 a.m. –6 p.m. (Mon.) Used book sale in the library. 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 481-3215.

Westside Jewish Community Center: 1-4 p.m. Fiftieth anniversary celebration. Free. 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 938-2531.

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LECTURES

The New JCC at Milken: 7-9 p.m. “Bringing Meaning by Caring for Others,” part of the “Lights in Action Speaker Series.” Free. Finegood Arts Center, 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (818) 464-3300.

Jewish World Watch: 7:30 p.m. “Genocide – Emergency: Sudan – Who Will Survive?” Free. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (818) 788-6000.

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EVENTS

Daphna and Richard Ziman: 6-8 p.m. Fundraiser reception for mayoral candidate Bob Hertzberg. $500-$1,000. Beverly Hills residence. (310) 966-2613.

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EVENTS

Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring:

1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Reading and book signing for Florence Weinberger’s “Carnal Fragrance.” Free. 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.

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LECTURES

Sherry Frumkin Gallery: 7 p.m. “Meet the Press; How the Media Covers the Israeli-Palestine Conflict” panel discussion with journalists Amy Wilentz, Hussein Ibish and Rob Eshman. Free. Studio 21, Santa Monica Airport, 3026 Airport Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 397-7493.

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DECEMBER 17/FRIDAY

CHANUKAH

Sat., Dec. 11
Happy Minyan: 8 p.m. Chanukah concert and stories by Shlomo Katz. Congregation Mogen David, Los Angeles. (310) 285-7777.

Sun., Dec. 12
Klezmer Jews: 9 a.m.–noon. Chanukah Concert. Santa Monica. (310) 398-6055.
The Center for Sport and Jewish Life: Noon-6 p.m. Celebration with L.A.’s largest menorah and celebrity guests. Universal City. (818) 758-1818.
Chabad of Conejo Valley and Friendship Circle: 1-3 p.m. Extravaganza for children with special needs. Los Angeles.
(323) 653-1086.

Chabad of Ventura County: 2-5 p.m. “Chanukah at the Harbor” with the commanding officer of Ventura County Naval Base. Ventura. (805) 658-7441.

Congregation Mishkon Tephilo:
5:30 p.m. Party and Doda Mollie’s “Chanukah Pajamikah” sing-along. (310) 392-3029.
Sephardic Congregation of Northridge: 5:30 p.m. Chanukah celebration. Northridge. (818) 481-9709.

Tuesday, Dec. 14
North Valley JCC: 1 p.m. Seniors (55+) Chanukah Party. Granada Hills.
(818) 360-9384.

Friday, Dec. 17
Cheviot Hills Senior Citizens Club: 10:45 a.m. Latke Party, boutique and live entertainment. West Los Angeles.
(310) 652-7508.

Singles

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Harbor Jewish Singles (55+): 6 p.m. Chanukah party with catered dinner and gift exchange. $12-$14. Private residence in Orange. (714) 939-8540.

Sephardic Singles Havurah (40s-60s):
7 p.m. Chanukah celebration and potluck dinner with candle lighting, prayers, songs and dancing. $5. R.S.V.P.,
(323) 294-6084.

Elite Jewish Theatre Singles: 8 p.m. No-host dinner social followed by the play, “Play It Again, Sam.” $17. Santa Monica area. R.S.V.P., (310) 203-1312.

Jewish Singles, Meet! (30s and 40s):
8 p.m. Chanukah party. $10. Private Encino residence. R.S.V.P. by Dec. 10, (818) 750-0095.

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Singles Helping Others: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Assist the National Council of Jewish Women with their holiday flea market sale. (323) 663-8378. Also, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sierra Madre 2005 Rose Parade float decorating. (818) 345-8802.

Jewish Outdoor Adventures: 10 a.m. Hike to Saddle Peak via Backbone Trail followed by hot tub and Chanukah party. Free. Piuma Road, Malibu. JewishOutdoor@yahoo.com.

Conversations at Leon’s: 2-5 p.m. “The Modern Wines of China” wine tasting. $15. 639 26th St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 393-4616.

ATID (21-39): 4 p.m. Adventures in Judaism II presents “Chanukah: Lights, Miracles, Action!” $30. 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 481-3244.

G.E.E. Super Singles: 7 p.m. Holiday Latke Party. $12-$15. R.S.V.P., (818) 501-0165.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple: 10 a.m.-noon. Lox Lattes and Learning program discussion with journalists Bob Baker and Paul Feldman on “Journalism and Israel: Is There an Anti-Israel Bias?” $50-$65. Private residence. R.S.V.P., rabbidennis@aol.com.

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Nexus: 7:30 p.m. Weekly dance classes for beginner and intermediate levels and open dance. $6. 3801 E. Willow St., Long Beach. www.JewishNexus.org.

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Westwood Jewish Singles (45+): 7:30 p.m. Discussion on “Commitment, the Big C.” $10. West Los Angeles area. R.S.V.P., (310) 444-8986.

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New Age Singles (55+): 6 p.m. “Eat and Schmooze” no-host dinner at Tony Roma’s Restaurant. 50 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills. (323) 874-9937.

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L.A.’s Fabulous Best Connections: Dinner at Marmalade Cafe. R.S.V.P., (323) 782-0435.

Conversations at Leon’s: 7 p.m. “Sex, What Do Men and Women Really Want?” $15-$17. 639 26th St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 393-4616.

New Start/Millionaire’s Circle: 7:30 p.m. Social honoring men who do charity work. Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (323) 461-3137.

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Chai Center (40-55): 7 p.m. Singles Friday Night Shabbat. West Los Angeles area. R.S.V.P., (310) 391-7995.

Upcoming Singles

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DECEMBER 26, SUNDAY