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"Temple Emanu-El Cooks!" – An Evening of Fun, Friendship and Food

Photo by Steve Chernela. All ready to cook! Executive Chef Ali Ament is ready to assist (from left to right) Rabbi Josh Leighton, Rabbi Sarah Smiley, Early Childhood Education Director Jill Cimafonte, Executive Director
Photo by Steve Chernela. All ready to cook! Executive Chef Ali Ament is ready to assist (from left to right) Rabbi Josh Leighton, Rabbi Sarah Smiley, Early Childhood Education Director Jill Cimafonte, Executive Director

by Millicent K. Brody and Marcia Kendler

Instead of dining out at a restaurant, friends and family from the Westfield area joined the clergy and senior staff of Temple Emanu-El of Westfield for a fabulous evening of fun and food on a Saturday evening in December.

Attendees entered the “Dining Hall” at Temple Emanu-El prepared to enjoy a large variety of delectable food, all generously donated by local restaurants, caterers, and vendors.  The highlight of the evening was a cooking contest with teams made up of clergy and senior staff, who were busy preparing appetizers and desserts from carefully selected ingredients from “Mystery Baskets.”  Master Pot Stirrer, aka Building Superintendent Mike Kenny, served as chairman and chief commentator. Executive Chef Ali Ament, a Temple Member, assisted and advised the Celebrity Chefs throughout the event. Randomly selected audience members served as judges.

”My husband and I watch a lot of shows on the Food Network,” added Rabbi Sarah Smiley. “One show we particularly watch is ‘Chopped.’ Once we saw the ingredients in the basket, we thought about what the chefs do on the program. Using all of our skills we tried to do the same thing.  We had a lot of fun participating in this fundraiser.”

While “chefs” were busy preparing their dishes, attendees sampled delicious culinary specialties and wine donations from our generous sponsors. Gold Sponsors: Signature Creations and Deli King of Linden, Bovella’s Pastry Shoppe and Cosimo’s Restaurant of Westfield, and Wine Library of Springfield.  Sponsors: Ahrre’s Coffee Roastery, Bohemian Raspberry Yogurt, Casa di Pizza, Patricia & Paul - Artisans of Fine Oils and Balsamics, Savory Spice Shop, Theresa’s Restaurant, and Vicki’s Diner, all of Westfield, and Cheese…Please! of Cranford.  Avenue Florists and Gifts of Elizabeth provided discounted centerpieces.

The team of Rabbi Douglas Sagal and Cantor Martha Novick worked hard to create a tasty appetizer. Rabbi Sagal noted, “I loved the wonderful sense of community and fun as we gathered together to cook!”

Jill Cimafonte, Director of Early Childhood Education said, “One of my sons loves Mexican food, and the combination of ingredients fit that themel.” “We called our contribution, ‘Shalom Ole’,” added her teammate, Executive Director Carolyn Shane.

With the attendees walking, talking and sampling, the sponsors gained connections with members of the Temple community. Patricia Hanigan, co-owner of Patricia & Paul Artisans of Fine Oils and Balsamics, said that one of the attendees came into her store right after the event and bought all of their holiday gifts from her. Patricia said, “We were thrilled to be a part of the event. We enjoyed the partnership we had with the Temple.”

Steve Burkat, co-owner of Casa di Pizza on Elm Street in Westfield with David Godlesky, also noted the positive outcome of being part of the fun evening. “We are always interested in helping the community,” he stated after the event was over.

“We had a fantastic fundraiser, with over 190 people having a wonderful time enjoying the excellent food and wine,” said Susan Dickstein, Chair of the event. “The cooking contest was a great hit as well,” she continued.  "It was wonderful to combine a fundraising event with a spirit of community, not only within Temple Emanu-El, but also in the Westfield area by working together with local businesses, who generously donated their time and products to make the evening a success.  I urge everyone to patronize these businesses.  It really does 'take a village.'"

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