Cooking with Compassion

Emanu-El volunteers cook and serve lunch to North Bay wildefire victims

When some of us in San Francisco went to sleep Sunday, October 8, we could already begin to smell the smoke emanating from what would become the worst fire disaster California had ever experienced. By Monday morning, the news was coming quickly – our neighbors and friends to the North had already lost homes, were evacuating at record pace, and this was only the beginning of a long, nightmarish week.

So when Monica Pevzner, Assistant Director of Community Impact at Congregation Emanu-El, sent out an email to congregants seeking volunteers to make lunch for our friends at Congregation Shomrei Torah, the response was swift. Of course we would do what any Bubbe would: we’d cook a communal meal for kids who could not go to school, for families that had lost their homes, and for residents of Santa Rosa who had been and still were out helping others deal with loss.

The menu was set as beef chili, cornbread, green salad, and chocolate brownies. Once at the synagogue in Santa Rosa, our group quickly got to work chopping onions, setting pots on the stove to start browning and sautéing, stirring up great bowls of cornbread, and heating up ovens. It felt tremendously relieving to be doing something helpful, even as the smoke outside made any activity impossible without wearing a mask. It was comforting to be with other Jewish volunteers, embracing our values by doing something in service of tikkun olam. The group of volunteers had come from all over the Bay Area – some of us had come from San Francisco, others from the East Bay, and Loal Isaacs, Director of New Initiatives at URJ Camp Newman, joined us from the camp’s site in Santa Rosa. Even though he was dealing with his own tremendous loss of the beloved summer camp where countless children had learned to embrace and immerse themselves in the joys of being Jewish, he still found the time, energy, and positivity to give to others.

By the time the rich, bubbling pots of chili and warm cornbread were ready, people were gathering in the eating areas. Brownies were set to bake, and lunch was served.

The reviews were excellent, and even a few declared it the best chili they’d ever had! My mother used to say hunger made the best sauce, but I think it would be fair to say, coming together as a community has its own special seasoning as well.

It would be another week before all the fires had been controlled, and it will be years before families are settled back into rebuilt homes. We just hope that the values that have served us as a people for thousands of years will continue to support and lift our friends at Shomrei Torah and in the Santa Rosa, Sonoma, and Napa communities we hold so dear.

Laura Mosson is a member of Congregation Emanu-El’s Tzedek Council. The Tzedek Council responds to the indignities impacting our community by translating our Reform Jewish values into social justice action that will transform our world into a more just society.

Congregation Emanu-El volunteers included: Sharon Kovalsky, Julie Levine, Laura Mosson, Loal Isaacs, Monica Pevzner, Jeremy Shuback, and Elana White

Categories: Volunteering, Community


November 07, 2017


Laura Mosson