Jewish women’s group ‘repairing the world’ one meal at a time

Is hunger acceptable to the women of the Wilmette-based National Council of Jewish Women Chicago North Shore Section?

“Absolutely not,” said Ellen Stafman, a 27-year Deerfield resident and NCJW Chicago North Shore soup kitchen project coordinator. “It’s really easy to help somebody every day. We are all capable here and we all have so much in our lives that it’s so easy to give and help people, that nobody should really go hungry especially in this area,”

On Aug. 6, NCJW volunteers prepared a meal and assembled sack lunches for more than 100 soup kitchen diners at the Evanston Beth Emet The Free Synagogue.

Beth Emet has provided a weekly Wednesday soup kitchen for 12 years, co-founded by Nancy Bashook of Evanston. Community groups like NCJW take turns donating and preparing meals.

Bashook can be found at the 1124 Dempster St. synagogue kitchen every other week lending her helping hand.

“We never know from week to week,” the number of diners who line up to dine, Bashook said. The line Aug. 6 started forming about 4:30 p.m. for the 6 p.m. meal service.

The soup kitchen celebrates the Jewish value of “tikkun olam,” which means “repair of the world.”

“It’s part of my life. I’m so grateful to be able to help out,” Bashook said, as she quickly moved about the kitchen and dining area with comfortable familiarity.

The dinner Aug. 6 featured parmesan-encrusted tilapia, bread, a salad with multiple veggies, like freshly-snapped green beans, boiled potatoes with fresh dill and butter plus circuses such as manufacturer-packaged Rice Krispies Treats and pink iced cookies with sprinkles.

The sack lunches had a sandwich with lettuce and a protein like roast beef, a fruit cup or fruit plus a nutritious snack like a granola bar.

“This is a great hands-on project,” Stafman said, who spoke next to the counter where Alison Baker Frank, of Deerfield, and Cheryl Gold, of Skokie, built brown bag lunches, which diners received on their way out.

“There’s just no excuse for people to be hungry at any time,” Stafman said.

NCJW Chicago North Shore volunteerism Aug. 6 is part of the organization’s ‘Feeding the Needy’ initiative.

One can donate groceries, money to purchase groceries or come to staff a soup kitchen.

“The projects have gradually expanded from working at one soup kitchen to working at multiple soup kitchens, twice a year and filling in when needed,” said Julie Newman of Northbrook, NCJW Chicago North Shore membership and programming director.

This summer, NCJW assisted PADS shelters in North Chicago by buying food and preparing bag lunches for Lake County homeless.

“There’s a large, unfilled need for bag meals during the summer months at these shelters,” Newman said. “On nine dates over the summer, our volunteers made and donated approximately 700 sandwiches and about 350 bag lunches”.

Mia Strubel-Iram, 12, her brother Ariel, 9, and their mother, Aleeza Strubel, of Skokie, worked as a team and as a family helping to set up the dining room.

Long tables with white linens featured cheerful blue-colored folding chairs. Live background music and fresh flowers like fuchsia zinnias gave the dining experience a feeling of warm hospitality.

“I started volunteering at a soup kitchen in Evanston in high school and when my kids got to be around 10, 11 and 12, I thought they’re not too young to experience what I experienced,” said Strubel, whose children both attend Chicago Jewish Day School.

“No matter what’s going on in my life, no matter what I have that I think I need or don’t need or have time for, I can always make time to really give to the community,” she said.

Two months ago, Mia, a seventh-grader and Ariel, a fourth-grader, joined their mother by volunteering at an Evanston church.

“We had a really positive experience and enjoyed interacting with the community,” said Strubel, who was raised in Wilmette and is a 1989 New Trier High School graduate. At New Trier, Strubel was active in a social service organization.

Years later, Strubel is building memories with her soon-to-be-teens while serving others.

“This is a mitzvah,” said Mia, who will celebrate her bat mitzvah next year with more mitzvahs or “good deeds.”

Mia’s bat mitzvah project will assist a school in Israel, she said.

“I’m having a really good time, it’s really fun,” said Mia’s brother, Ariel. “I have the pride of helping lots of people.”

Alison Baker Frank offered a message to others to consider volunteering.

“Find an organization, any organization and sign up and just get going and do it,” she said.

“Everybody should be able to get a healthy meal,” said Beverly Copeland of Morton Grove.

Meanwhile, volunteers breaded the fish or manned the stove, getting the meal ready on time. By 5:47 p.m., everything was pretty much in order with time for the volunteers to pose for a group photo.

“We come from a people who like to eat, you know,” said Cheryl Gold. “Food is love. We give love.”

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