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Kosher Dinner builds relationships, educates community, dispels prejudice

By Mary Stamp

Beyond offering a taste of Jewish foods, sharing ethnic music and fund raising to some degree for the synagogue, Temple Beth Shalom’s annual Kosher Dinner welcomes the community to the synagogue to build relationships, educate people and dispel prejudice.

David Williams
David Williams, Chair of Temple Beth Shalom's Kosher Dinner

For David Williams, who has been co-chair or chair of the dinner for four years, it’s about “opening our doors to remove any mystique of who we are.  It’s saying we can visit your congregation and you can visit ours to understand that beyond our different beliefs, traditions and holidays, we are all part of the same human race.

“The dinner has evolved since its formation 71 years ago,” David said. “Then there were fewer guests who came to the dinners and there was need for fewer volunteers to prepare the food.

“For many in our society, religion is becoming a fading piece of their lives,” he said.  “Some people ask themselves, should we come to the temple to pray for three hours on the Sabbath—Saturday morning—or go skiing?  We are also living in more of an interfaith society, where mixed marriages are more common and families need to make different choices.”

Temple Beth Shalom's annual Kosher Dinner will be held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday, March 11,
at 1322 E. 30th Avenue.

While once the dinner primarily focused on outreach and educating the community about Jewish practices, he said, the continual rise in costs of utilities for cooking, security for the event and the need to outsource some of the foods, the goals have changed over the years.

One reason David has been involved is that when he moved to Spokane in 2003, he had been working for eight years in Seattle for two food distributors, specializing in supplying kosher foods from the East Coast to the Pacific Northwest.

While Temple Beth Shalom members may have once cooked and baked food in their own kitchens and later in the current temple kitchen, the number of guests has increased, making it necessary to outsource some of the foods for volunteers to bake, then reheat and serve to the 2,400 who now come to the Kosher Dinner.

David uses many of his connections from the food distribution business.  The selection of kosher foods needed for the dinner are somewhat limited in Spokane area supermarkets, he said.

Because Temple Beth Shalom as an institution is able to buy the food wholesale, he can work directly with his sources to purchase beef brisket, potato knishes and the chocolate rugelach.

Even in purchasing the foods, there is still much work in cooking the brisket and preparing the carrot tzimmes, challah bread and Mediterranean spiced apples.

For the Jewish community, it’s also a time of building camaraderie as the synagogue’s members help prepare and serve the food, and perform to provide entertainment while guests wait.

Much of the music comes from the Eastern and Western European, African and South American roots of the Jewish community in Spokane.

Last year and again this year, David has invited the Spokane Community Gospel Choir to sing.  Some have asked him what their presence has to do with Jewish traditions.

“It’s not ‘our’ tradition per se, but the choir members have great voices, and our dinner is about reaching out to all the people in the community,” said David, who always asks the choir director to focus on the gospel music from centuries of Jewish music, especially songs based on stories from the Hebrew Bible.

“We share with African Americans a common history of oppression in face of white supremacy both historically and locally,” he said. “Plus, as Jews, we strive to find a common bond while working together with our neighbors.”

David, who spent his early childhood in Seattle, moved with his parents to Israel, where he attended an Israeli public school, became a citizen, graduated from high school, served in the military, and earned a degree in theatre arts in 1985 from Tel-Aviv University.

In 1987, he went to restaurant school in New York City, where he met his wife, Vickie.  When she completed her law degree at New York University, they moved to Seattle, where she practiced law. David worked at a few jewelry stores before becoming a stay-at-home father and eventually entering food distribution.  They moved to Spokane in 2003 when Vickie became a professor at Gonzaga Law School.  David continued in food distribution after their move and currently works with a furniture and home décor distributor.

Having been raised as a Reform Jew, he said he did not grow up eating kosher foods regularly, not even while living in Israel, where much of the food is commonly kosher.

“Often the choice one makes to keep kosher is less about the particular diet and more often to remind us of our heritage and who we are as Jewish people,” he said.

David helps cook the brisket the week before the dinner.  It is reheated the day of the dinner.  From sundown Saturday, March 4, to Sunday, March 5, several volunteers cook about 1,300 pounds of meat in the synagogue’s six ovens.

“Brisket needs to cook for at least four hours until it’s tender,” he said.  “Otherwise, it’s chewy.”

Because the synagogue kitchen is usually kept “dairy,” Rabbi Michael Goldstein and a team of congregants “kasher” the kitchen on the Thursday before the brisket is cooked to make the transition from dairy to meat.

In kosher cooking, he explained, dairy and meat cannot be mixed because of the biblical passage that says: “A calf is not to be cooked in its mother’s milk.”  

When the kitchen is kashered, they sterilize all surfaces, the flatware, china, pots and pans, and anything that was not put in storage and kept aside for the kosher dinner.  After the dinner, the kitchen is transitioned back to dairy, using similar methods.

In the 2011 Kosher Dinner program, Rabbi Michael explained that the term and concept of kosher come from the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy where God commands the Jewish people to follow specific dietary laws:

1) Meat and milk are not to be mixed.

2) Kosher animals both chew a cud and have a split hoof.  Kosher birds do not scavenge, and kosher fish have fins and scales.

3) Some animals, birds, sea creatures and insects are forbidden even if they meet the requirements—pork and shellfish. 

To be certified as kosher

, animals must be slaughtered by ritual and birds by hand with a blessing. All blood must be removed before cooking.  Meat and dairy are not to be eaten at the same meal, and there must be a waiting period between eating them.  Fish, eggs, vegetables and fruit may be eaten with either meat or dairy. Cooking and eating utensils for meat and dairy must be kept separate.

Kosher foods are certified, for example, by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis, by Kof-K and other organizations that send inspectors to supervise that the food is prepared according to kosher laws.

“Keeping kosher reminds us of who we are,” David repeated.

For him, the most important part of Jewish faith is its ethics  and morals.  It is about how people should treat one another—with honesty and integrity, by working together in harmony, by being there to help others and by believing in God.

“On the Sabbath, we are not to labor in the sense of cooking, driving, watching TV or creating a spark by turning on anything electrical. So a traditional Jewish household will often prepare cholent, the Sabbath stew, the day before the Sabbath. It is set on the stove to cook overnight and into the next day,” David said. 

“On the Sabbath, we attend services at the synagogue and study Torah.  A kiddush lunch, which is prepared in advance, is often served on Saturday after service.  A non-Jew can be asked to reheat a dish if necessary,” he said.

For information, call 747-3304.