Now they"re cooking, Oy! - Men cook for Shabbat at Herzl-Ner Tamid

By DeAnn Rossetti

Shabbat is the most sensual, physical day of the week for those of the Jewish faith, a Friday night that is also the most spiritual day for Jewish people.

``It's a holy day which is celebrated in a physical way,'' said Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum. ``Traditionally you save the best food for Shabbat, and the honor of Shabbat is increased by preparations made by the most distinguished member of the family.''

Rosenbaum knew that his wife, Janine, was exhausted after a full week of work as director of Jewish studies at the Solomon Schechter Day School in Worcester, Mass. Instead of insisting that she do the traditional cooking for Friday night Shabbat, he asked her to teach him to make kugel, an egg and noodle dish that was one of his favorites.

After coming to the Seattle area for a sabbatical, Rosenbaum had the time to become more adventurous, and learn to cook even more complex dishes. Once back in Worcester, he decided to give the rest of the women in his congregation a break by teaching the men to cook kugel in the ``Great Men's Kugel Baking Festival,'' in which 40 kugels were baked in one evening. The women in the congregation were, he noted, thrilled.

Once Rosenbaum became senior rabbi at Herzl-Ner Tamid on Mercer Island three years ago, he said he was itching to do more cooking classes for men.

``I was lucky to find several fabulous people in our congregation who are excellent cooks, and once they heard my idea, they took the ball and ran with it,'' said Rosenbaum. ``Those 10 people met with me and decided to have a different menu for each of the four cooking classes, and that the men should learn to cook a complete dinner, from appetizers to soup, entree, side dishes, dessert and special coffees. We wanted very elegant but simple to prepare food that would be delicious.''

The group decided to create Mediterranean, vegetarian, Sephardic and Ashkenazi chicken meals, as well as a Mexican menu, and have the men participating take a kosher shopping tour of Albertsons on Mercer Island.

Of the 50 men in the Men Cooking for Shabbat classes, only 12 stalwart ones arrived at Albertsons, but they were enthusiastic about the variety of Kosher food, from fish to noodles to kosher miso, available at the store.

When Ron Furman moved to the Island in 1978, Albertsons only had one shelf of kosher Passover items, but ``now they have three aisles of just dry kosher stuff in front of the store, and at least a half dozen displays for kosher Passover. It's just wonderful to have all the items you need in one place.''

Marvin Coe said, while eyeing the kosher wine and sake: ``They have everything anybody could want. Kosher products are a little more expensive, but there's nothing wrong with that. This has been a tremendous education.''

Back at the basement kitchen and dining room at Herzl-Ner Tamid, Rosenbaum sang a song about food in Hebrew, teaching the Shabbat cooking class the words so they could sing the song as part of their own special Shabbat at home. Behind him were two tables set flawlessly with gleaming dishes, goblets, tableware and flowers. A cooking class student with a red yarmulke, Brad Lehrer, stood up with a hearty ``I have help my brethren!'' and explained to the men present that, if you make okay signs with both hands, you will see that the left hand is making a lowercase b and the right a lower case d, which can help you remember that the bread dish is always placed to the left, and the drinking goblets on the right.

``So a great mystery of table settings is solved,'' added Lehrer. ``If you know this, you'll know more than the wait staff at most restaurants.''

Janine and Andy Jacobs, event planners and caterers, begin showing the group how to properly set and decorate a Shabbat table.

``Flowers are good, guys,'' said Janine. ``It gets your wives in the mitzvah mood.''

There were four long tables set up as cooking stations, and the the kitchen will be in use as well as the men break up into groups and begin learning to cook everything from grilled sea bass with Mexican confit and spicy fruit salsa to Moroccan portobello mushrooms and lentils and an easy Kosher chicken soup with matzo balls.

Ken Rudee of Barnes and Watson Teas showed his group spinach, beet and poblano chili salad with green beans and how to make Mexican coffee and tequila lime sorbet. The men were allowed to eat the meals they helped make, and all paid rapt attention to the instructors as the food was prepared, step by step.

``I just wanted to learn more about Jewish cooking, with hopes of taking more of a leadership role at home in the kitchen,'' said Dan Mintz, a native of Mercer Island.

Paul Benezra has always cooked because he's been on his own.

``It's rare to have a sit down dinner with side dishes, vegetables and salad instead of spaghetti in my house,'' said Benezra. ``Here we're learning to make the authentic stuff, like grandma used to make, and learning new dishes that my wife will like.''

Les Klaff, a physician, joked that he took the class because his wife told him to.

``It is fun,'' Klaff said. ``I'm cooking (Shabbat) dinner for my family and my friend's family next Friday night.''

Rabbi Rosenbaum promised each man who cooks a Shabbat meal for his family and another family a set of silver kiddush cups for the ceremonial Shabbat wine.

``Traditional rituals can become dry and lifeless with repetition,'' said Rosenbaum. ``There has to be a new element to add to Shabbat to make it come alive, and with the men cooking, it adds novelty and the food itself, which has a certain flair. The men working together here adds excitement and becomes a bonding experience for them.''

The result of all the classes and the hard work of Rosenbaum and his team of cooking experts was a happy group of well-fed men.

``We created an espirit de corps by giving them special aprons (with the Men's Shabbat Cooking logo embroidered on them), we taught them the special song about food they can sing, and they'll all receive a diploma and I will invoke God's blessings on the work of their hands so they will cook delicious Shabbat meals,'' said Rosenbaum. ``Shabbat is about overcoming gaps; like the gap between body and spirit, by elevating cooking and making it spiritually uplifting, that helps bring people and families closer together. Any way that people can stop (Shabbat means `stopping' in Hebrew) doing their everyday routine and nurture each other contributes to the atmosphere of peace in the home, and what could be better than creating that good feeling?''

Rosenbaum said that with the success of these classes, he plans on doing it again next year.

``There was a great deal of excitement around the synagogue each Tuesday (from the cooking classes),'' he said. ``I am sure that great new things will come out of this, and hopefully it will increase the sense of joy people feel in Jewish living.''

Rabbi Rosenbaum can be reached at Herzl-Ner Tamid, 206-232-8555.

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