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There is the old cliché’, an army marches on its stomach. From the very start of the peoplehood of Israel, according to the Torah portions read this time of year, the feeding of the Children of Israel was a paramount concern for them. Even before they left the House of Bondage, they were commanded to eat matzo and lamb. The midrashic tales associated with the parting of the Sea of Reeds report that as they crossed the seabed dry-shod, they had a choice of the finest, fresh fruits from trees that suddenly sprouted along their path. As they entered the desert their first challenge was inadequate potable water, and soon after their hunger was assuaged with the arrival of the miraculous manna.
Yes, since the very beginning the food we eat has been basic to the existence of the Jewish people, and not only those labeled as “gastronomic Jews.”
It is no accident, then, that Columbus’ Congregation Agudas Achim places great stock in the food it serves each Saturday as a luncheon kiddush following morning prayers. In the past several years the congregation has made valiant efforts to serve delicious, nutritious meals, and along the way, has tried several approaches to insure the success of meals.
For a while it relied on the services of a local caterer to prepare the weekly repast. Then it relied on members of its maintenance and supervisory staff. More recently it hired a local chef to come in and prepare meals. However, the most recent approach has proven the most successful.
About a month ago a committee of volunteer women and men has begun making meals. Led by Amy Palmer, the group has varied offerings each week. The foods prepared are as nutritious as they are delicious. The variety of food offered also creates greater interest in what food will be provided. Gone are the days when the menu was identical week in, week out. Gone for the most part are the expected tuna and egg salad.
When Palmer was first appointed, her task was to enlist a committee to suggest a more imaginative approach to the menu. She believes that she was selected to head the group not because of her kitchen prowess, but because of her personal adherence to healthy eating. She is a raw food vegan at home, and has long benefited from excellent health.
Soon afterward, Rabbi Levine provided in depth training in the practices of kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws, and offered the volunteers a careful guide to the layout of the synagogue kitchen. Only then did the group take over; baking, cooking and enticing the entire community with culinary interpretations.
Something special is certainly going on at Agudas Achim. Inspiring lessons taught after the Torah reading each Shabbat morning by Rabbi Mitch Levine are appreciated. A broader group of members has begun to chant the prayers services and to read the Torah. The results are clear. Attendance at morning Shabbat prayers is on the rise.
Now the food served is also helping to draw a crowd.
Not only do armies march on their stomachs, so does Agudas Achim.