On May 23, dozens crowded the patio of the Jerusalem-based OneFamily organization as a corps of women demonstrated the art of making hallah, latkes, and a mouth-watering mixture of rice, lentils, and fried onions.
But those gathered around the outdoor tables knew this was something more than a cooking how-to.
The cooks were all mothers who had lost children to terror attacks, while the visitors were women from all over the world — including a delegation from the Shalom Heritage Center in East Windsor — who had traveled to Israel to show their solidarity and share in their hosts’ healing.
“Despite the unimaginable grief of losing a child, making their child’s favorite recipes for others was a way to bring their memory back and share their child again,” said Paula Ostroff, SHC’s director of development, programming, and public relations. “If the entire Jewish community could see itself as one giant family, it would be easier for Jews from all walks of life to get along and understand each other.”
OneFamily is a national organization that provides financial assistance, therapeutic programs, and legal assistance to Israel’s thousands of victims of terror attacks. It was launched in 2001 by Marc and Chantal Belzberg in response to a deadly terrorist attack that left 15 dead and 130 injured.
“The founders recognized that a support system for the families of terror victims didn’t exist and that what was needed went beyond the issuance of government checks,” said Rachel Moore, a former East Windsor resident and former director of development at the SHC. Moore moved to Israel with her family in July 2012 and became the spokesperson for OneFamily this past January.
The organization also provides a “steady stream of personal encouragement for each victim and their family — delivered in a unique ‘family’ atmosphere of togetherness that the victims have come to love and to trust,” Moore said.
Last month’s guests were participants in a Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project trip. Established in 2008, JWRP is a movement that strives to inspire positive values to empower women of all backgrounds. The group’s goal is to bring 10,000 women to Israel each year on a highly subsidized tour of Israel that includes a series of lectures at Aish HaTorah World Center in Jerusalem.
The SHC delegates visited OneFamily headquarters during the portion of the trip designated for community service.
Moore said the culinary demonstrations are part of a therapeutic initiative that will culminate in the publication of a cookbook in both Hebrew and English.
“Our mission is to connect mothers to mothers through the act of cooking and to help these families share their children in a positive, hands-on way and bring these recipes back to these women as a way to memorialize their children,” she said. We know it wasn’t easy for these victims to open themselves up, but it’s very healing for them and they’re so appreciative of the opportunity and the showing of support.”
Speaking to NJJN after the group’s return to New Jersey, West Windsor resident Emily Josephson recalled being extremely moved as she watched one of the Israeli mothers preparing hallah, a pastime the woman used to share with her slain son.
“I thought the experience would be heartbreaking to watch, but we were actually so inspired by these women’s strength,” said Josephson, a supporter of the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks, a JCC of PMB board member, and the mother of a 12- and 14-year-old. “Despite their ever-present grief, they’re so proud of what their children have done for Israel and know exactly what they’re fighting for. When they spoke of their children and made their special foods, they were just shining.”
Despite some language barriers, the medium of food served as a powerful and universal bridge to the heart, said Princeton Junction resident Jill Schwartz-Chevlin.
“One mother we met made an incredibly delicious cake using biscuits and cream, but the most memorable part of the process for me was how much love it was made with,” she said. “These women still had that love present within them even though their child is gone.”
“Losing a child can be so isolating,” Ostroff agreed, “but OneFamily is a special program that reaches out a hand and lets these mothers know they’re not alone.”
To help support the translation of the emerging OneFamily cookbook into English, or to donate to the organization, contact OneFamily in Jerusalem at (02) 539-9000, at its Teaneck office at 646-289-8600, or visit onefamilytogether.org.