The Torah Fund Brunch sponsored by the Sisterhood of Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El (TBH-BE) in Wynnewood was a culinary tribute to this year’s honoree, Aliza Shaya. She was selected by the Sisterhood for having enhanced the “kiddush culture” at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El. By encouraging people to linger after services, the synagogue has become even more open and welcoming.
For many years, Shaya and her crew of volunteers have prepared the kiddush luncheon, which is sponsored by the Sisterhood and provided to worshipers at TBH-BE on most Shabbat mornings. To those who are not behind the scenes with Shaya and her team, it is as though the food miraculously appears on buffet tables following services, like manna appeared to the children of Israel when they were wandering in the wilderness.
But unlike the biblical manna, the Shabbat food at TBH-BE does not arrive suddenly through divine intervention. Instead, it is the product of hours and hours of labor by Shaya and her crew, who for years have gathered during the week in the shul kitchen to cook, bake and prepare dishes for these Kiddush luncheons.
Shaya’s efforts in organizing these bountiful Shabbat buffets have not gone unnoticed, which is why she was selected as this year’s Sisterhood honoree. Almost immediately after this announcement was made, congregant Marcia Levenson stepped up to plan and orchestrate the Torah Fund Brunch and tribute event. Aided by several volunteers over a number of weeks, Levenson cooked, baked, roasted, fried, shredded and tossed. She set tables for over 70 guests and graciously made her recipes available in take-home booklets. While Levenson’s dishes were pleasing to both the eye and the palate, her idea to harness the culinary skills of those in attendance was the pièce de résistance. Attendees were pointed to a table laden with brightly colored vegetables, which they were invited to chop, slice, bag and freeze for Shaya and her crew to use later.
The Torah Fund Brunch and tribute event was attended by Rabbi Joel Alter, son of TBH-BE’s beloved members Reina and Milton (z”l) Alter. Rabbi Alter warmly delivered a d’var torah about that week’s Torah portion, in which he discussed the application of the number seven in Jewish tradition to teach the use and hallowing of time.
Another special guest at the event was Shaya’s son, Alon, who flew up from New Orleans to pay tribute to his mother. Alon Shaya is an accomplished chef and restauranteur, who, among his many culinary distinctions, won the prestigious James Beard Foundation Award this year for best new restaurant in the United States — an Israeli restaurant, called Shaya. At the Torah Fund event, Alon credited his mother with being his inspiration and his first cooking teacher — an accolade that was probably even sweeter than her award as Sisterhood honoree.