Temple feeds needy during holiday

Temple feeds needy during holiday

BY VICTORIA SIEGEL, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Thanksgiving is not always a happy time.

For most Americans Thanksgiving is supposed to be a holiday of family, food, and joy. However, for many people who have neither family nor the means for the food it’s anything but a joyful time of year. The members of Temple Israel’s Religions Action Committee (RAC) are trying to change that along with generous funding from the Wolf Foundation.

For the past 20 years, the RAC has been serving Thanksgiving dinner to the area needy on the Wednesday night before the holiday. On Wednesday, Nov. 22, they did it again.

“We make enough food to serve 500 people,” Joan Moscowitz, chairperson of the Thanksgiving Dinner, said. “We provide a complete dinner from turkey with dressing and gravy to mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.” Last Wednesday they served 350-400 people.

People who, for one reason or another, aren’t able to enjoy the holiday were invited through various agencies around the area. Rand Goldstein, who is responsible for contacting the agencies and arranging transportation to Temple Israel, has a list of organizations that range from the elderly, women in abusive situations, people in transitional housing, and single women. “Around 5-6 weeks before the event, I began contacting the agencies,” Goldstein explained. “And then I made arrangements for their clients to attend.”

This community meal required the efforts of at least 100 volunteers to prepare and serve enough food to feed that many diners. Twenty volunteers served the meal, 45 people acted as hosts and hostesses, another group arrived on Tuesday to carve the 17 turkeys, more TI members set the tables, and around 20 kids from the Mitzvah Mania group served the dessert. The Boy Scouts helped with the clean up.

In addition to a delicious meal and warm company, the diners were entertained by the Parkway Central High School choir and performing arts group with song and dance. “Every year, the people have a great time,” Goldstein said. “It was just wonderful to see their faces and their reactions.” He added that this dinner is the greatest mitzvah he has ever done in his entire life.

Rabbi Rubin originally conceived of this idea because he felt there was a need in the area. Now, after all these years, this well-oiled committee kicks into automatic drive in September when planning begins. First, the committee orders the turkeys and plans the meal. Then Goldstein begins contacting various agencies to identify who should receive an invitation. Some of the organizations he calls are Jewish Family and Children’s Services, Hope House, Covenant House, the Urban League of Metro St. Louis, Crown Center, Parkview Towers, and Faith House. “‘Needy’ means everything from not having the resources to purchase dinner to not having any place to go,” Moscowitz explained. The invitees represent a wide variety of the area’s demographics: young, seniors, entire families, single, black, white, Bosnian, Russian, Jewish, gentile, and even little children.

The RAC’s efforts of tikkun olam extended beyond Wednesday evening’s dinner. “Even though we prepared enough food for 500 people we knew that we would be serving less than that,” Moscowitz said. “We intentionally over-prepared so that we were able to donate the left over dishes to a food pantry so it could serve Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday.”

Goldstein emphasized that in addition to good food and entertainment, the volunteers also provided the attendees with something much more valuable: friendly ears to hear their stories. The volunteers were instructed to interact with the guests in order to make them feel welcomed. “People love to have others ask about their family history and to tell their stories.” As for Goldstein, in between tracking down wayward buses and cabs, he especially loved seeing the little kids all dressed up and having a good time.

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