Oct 10, 2017

SPBC Rebbitzens to the Rescue Cook for Sukkot in the Keys

As preparations for Sukkot got underway in South Palm Beach County, Jewish residents eagerly anticipated celebrating with their families and friends. That’s when concern for another community was raised by a caring group of high school students – which led to a whole new local effort to help a Jewish community ravaged by Hurricane Irma.

“As soon as our students found out how their peers at two other Jewish Day Schools in Boca had gone to Key West with saws, rakes and other yard tools to help clear downed trees and clean up at a synagogue and homes damaged by Hurricane Irma, they wanted to know how they, too, could help,” said Rebbitzen Michal Schochet, Judaic Studies Principal of Hadar High School for Girls in Boca Raton.

Rebbitzen Schochet quickly contacted Rabbi Josh Broide of the Deborah and Larry D. Silver Center for Jewish Engagement at the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, where he has been at the center of hurricane relief generating from the community. A call to Rebbitzen Chanie and Rabbi Yaakov Zucker at Chabad of Key West determined that all the shul’s frozen holiday food had thawed and spoiled, neither the Chabad nor the Zuckers had a working kitchen, and they couldn’t even count on finding eggs at the supermarket.

Only a few hours later, on a conference call, South Palm Beach County’s Rebbitzens (women married to Orthodox rabbis and who fulfill their own leadership roles) decided to employ not chainsaws, but a different set of tools – in their kitchens. Together, they would see that those who had been through so much in Key West would be able to enjoy the holiday in the way they do every year – with home-cooked meals.

“We felt terrible thinking how they wouldn’t be able to cook what they needed for the holiday,” said Leora Cohen, a student at Hadar. “So we wanted to be sure they would have delicious meals.”

In the middle of their own holiday preparations, the rebbitzens decided to cook all the meals needed for what Chabad of Key West had planned before the storm – dinners to be served at the shul for 100 people on the first night, and for 50 people on the five subsequent evenings.

Only a couple of days later, what Broide calls “an army of shoppers” arrived at Grove Kosher Market in Palms Plaza at Boca Del Mar, where Broide heard Shlomo Goldman assure that “no one will go hungry on my watch.” With the help of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, the store’s generous discounts and some individual contributions from near and far, the ingredients left the project’s designated checkout lane for the homes of more than a dozen rebbitzens.

At the rebbitzens’ homes, with students from their day schools, FAU and Palm Beach State College, as well as congregants, colleagues and friends, over two days they produced 350 festive, multi-course holiday meals. After a short stay in the freezers at Boca Raton Synagogue, the meals along with challahs headed to Key West in a refrigerated truck through the donated services of Uniform Security Agency, Golden Apple and the Islamorada Beer Company.

“When I received the initial request, I wondered ‘how can I add possibly add this to such a busy schedule,’” said Rebbetzin Rivkah Denburg of Chabad of Central Boca Raton, whose kitchen served as one of the preparation sites. “But then I thought ‘no, this is too important, we can do this.’” I sent out a text and got an immediate response from women wanting to know what they could do to help. We planned, we shopped, we cooked, we delivered, all in just a few days.”

“Our students at Hadar felt so good about their work helping others for the holiday, and we felt wonderful opening our kitchens. Meeting new women and knowing we were working together for the same goal across the community was amazing,” said Rebbetzin Schochet.

“It was so special and appropriate for this time of year to come together and experience how one community can help another without knowing them,” said Rebbitzen Jennifer Gibber of Boca Jewish Center/Shaarei Tefillah, who also opened her kitchen for the project. “By involving young ladies from our congregation, they got to see they are part of a whole world of Jews who are there for each other in times of need.”

“Sukkot is a holiday of joy and happiness, and this year as we celebrate in our own sukkahs, our joy is far greater in knowing it is shared with our fellow Jews in Key West who have been through so much,” said Rabbi Broide. “Everyone we approached jumped right in, showing once again how our remarkable community comes together for those who need us.”

Rabbi Broide expresses his deep gratitude for the project coming together so quickly and so successfully, through the efforts of those mentioned above, as well as: Rebbitzens Veeta Abramchik, Simone Broide, Chani Bukiet, Rivkah Denburg, Shira Englander, Jennifer Gibber, Yocheved Goldberg, Rebecca Hochman, Rina Lanner, Rivka Liberow, Michal Light, Arielle Moskowitz, Chana Reeva Opoczynski, Ruth Rabovsky, Cheli Schloss and Michal Schochet; and to Lysee Stein, Michal Marcus, Boca Women Inspired and Rabbi Shuey Biston.

Further thanks to the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County; Ron Gallatin, Summer Faerman and Hands on Tzedakah; Key West transportation providers Moishe Applebaum and Adam Liebowitz, Uniform Security Agency, Golden Apple and Jose Herrera of Islamorada Beer Company, and all of the volunteers who jumped in to help.