Lasagna and chesed: Food is love


Gail Wechsler, Special For The Jewish Light

As a Jew, there are two core tenets that guide my life. The first is tikkun olam, repairing the world. I feel I have an obligation to make the world better than I found it during my lifetime. The second is chesed, or lovingkindness. I truly believe, as the sign on my front lawn says, that Kindness is Everything.

Lately I’ve been thinking about chesed. It has become a big part of my life and it explains why I make lasagna.

It started back in the 1980s. A dear friend and one of my study group partners in law school, John, was absent from class for a while. Someone else in class said he was dealing with an illness but it was not clear yet what was going on.

What could I do to provide support? Baking chocolate chip cookies sounded about right. I got his home address in Westchester, N.Y. and started buying, mixing, baking and then wrapping up his care package.

It turned out that John had a brain tumor. He did come back to class. As soon as he saw me, he wrapped me in a big bear hug. He told me that those cookies helped him during a time of great worry and uncertainty. I guess that’s where I got the spark to cook for friends dealing with illness.

Although John’s cookies were not the last time I baked for a sick friend, somewhere between the 1980s and the 2000s, I changed my focus. Lasagna became my go-to dish. Maybe it was because some of my cooking was in response to Meal Train requests, which require a main course. Perhaps I remember lasagna as a comfort food from my own young adulthood (I don’t recall having it much as a child, at least not the homemade kind).

During this time, it also was not lost on me why giving a meal meant so much. I, myself, was a cancer patient in the early 1990s and again in 2005. (I’ve been in remission since then.) My family and I were recipients of many a casserole. These meals nourished us in more than the obvious way. I told myself at that time that if I could, I would return the favor to others as a pay-it-forward gesture.

I started stocking lasagna noodles, pasta sauce and various kinds of cheeses and veggies in the refrigerator so they could be used as needed. With apologies to Mollie Katzen, my recipe was a variation I concocted based on the original in the “Moosewood Cookbook.”

In those initial lasagna-making years, I cooked for friends and spouses of friends. Most, like John, were dealing with a cancer diagnosis: lymphoma, breast cancer. Thankfully, these first recipients of my veggie lasagna all recovered. Maybe there was more than love mixed in with the noodles, tomatoes and mushrooms. I’d like to think so.

Since the start of the pandemic, my services have been needed too much. I say that because over the past year I have been cooking for four friends with four different cancer diagnoses. I’d love to put my informal lasagna-making business to rest due to a lack of customers. At the same time, it still gives me a deep sense of contentment when I am able to deliver a piping hot meal to a dear friend who needs it.

I don’t have a medical degree. I can’t perform miracles. But if I can bring a smile to someone’s face with a simple lasagna (and keep them fed for a week), I know I’m doing what I can to provide support and, yes, love.

My friend John didn’t make it. But his words and his big bear hug stay with me. They motivate me to never forget how we need to cherish each other and hold each other close. And how providing food from my kitchen can be my way of doing that. It is my personal version of chesed.

Gail’s Lasagna Recipe


  • Approximately 2 15 oz. jars of pasta sauce (preferred: Newman’s Own or Classico)
  • 2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 cups of shredded 5 Italian cheese blend, assorted vegetables (ex: onion, mushroom, tomato, broccoli)
  • 12 lasagna noodles
  • Some parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top


  • Prepare the lasagna noodles according to the package
  • Saute the veggies in olive oil; then set aside
  • Once noodles are drained and veggies cooked, layer the lasagna as follows:
    • Pasta sauce
    • 1/3 of the noodles
    • ½ of the 5 Italian cheese and the cooked veggies
    • More pasta sauce
    • ½ of the mozzarella cheese
    • 1/3 of the noodles
    • ½ of the 5 Italian cheese
    • Pasta sauce
    • ½ of the mozzarella cheese
    • 1/3 of the noodles
    • Pasta sauce
    • top with grated parmesan cheese
    • Cook, covered in foil, in a 375 degree preheated oven for 45 minutes.