Happy 20th Birthday to the Beth Emet Soup Kitchen!!

Twenty years ago, on the first Wednesday of November 2002, the Beth Emet Soup Kitchen opened its doors to provide dinners for people in need. The process, from its initial conception to the opening, was a year in the making. The Soup Kitchen was the brainchild of a small group of Social Action Committee members with the enthusiastic support of Rabbi Peter S. Knobel (of blessed memory) and then- board president Bob Render. The Beth Emet Board was interested but cautious, concerned as boards should be about issues of liability and security. Finally, Bob Render’s son Nathan said to him, “Stop worrying, the Soup Kitchen shows what our Jewish values are–this is what we should be doing!” With the Rabbi’s and Bob’s encouragement, the board decided in favor of serving the community.

The original 3 founders were Jessie Macdonald, Nancy Bashook and Jeff Forgash, but they were soon joined by Tina Herpe, Liz Coustan, Susan Fisher, Patti Gerbie, Rich Libles, Art Sontag, Mayta Spitz, Kathy Kaberon and Nathan Render. These twelve people made up the Soup Kitchen’s first Steering Committee that developed the organizational protocol that is still followed today: financial record keeping, volunteer coordinating, security, and administrative/site supervisor staffing.

Over the next 20 years, many other Beth Emet members joined the Soup Kitchen Committee and many, many more volunteered their time on Wednesday evenings to cook, serve dinner, play music, bake desserts and bread, clean up, and generally offer gracious hospitality to the growing numbers of people who came to dine. Community support was broad, with businesses donating desserts, bread, fruit, and other items. Volunteer groups came together from Beth Emet committees and from the congregation in general, as well as from various civic organizations and other synagogues on the north shore.

The Soup Kitchen’s leadership has changed very little since 2002:

  • Chair: Jessie Macdonald 2002 – 2015; Leslie Shulruff 2015 – present
  • Vice-chair: Nancy Bashook 2002-2015; Lizzie Graham & Donna Wolf 2015 – Jan. 2022; Beth Tucker & Tracey Denlow Jan. 2022-present
  • Security Host: Jeff Forgash 2002-present
  • Financial: Tina Herpe, Bonnie Goodman, Lizzie Graham, Elizabeth Lerner, Becca Nolan (current)
  • Volunteer Coordinator: Liz Coustan, Julie Forgash, Mayta Sptiz, Paul Isaacson, Jessie Macdonald, Kelly Austin, Susan Melczer (current)

The Soup Kitchen has become an integral part of Beth Emet’s commitment to social justice. Although the years of the pandemic have been challenging, they’ve also been skillfully navigated by Leslie, Jeff, and their team of leaders. We at Beth Emet and in the interfaith community continue to advocate and work for the changes in policies that contribute to homelessness, poverty, and social isolation. In the meantime, the Soup Kitchen will continue to fulfill its original mission—to provide a nourishing homecooked meal in an atmosphere of dignity and graciousness.

Please click on the link to read a more detailed account of how the Soup Kitchen came to be. It appeared in the Beth Emet Bulletin in October 2002. (link to article “How to Start a Soup Kitchen”)

Leslie Shulruff, Jessie Macdonald, Nancy Bashook, Jeff Forgash

Beth Tucker, Tracey Denlow, Leslie Shulruff

Donna Wolf, Jeff Forgash Leslie Shulruff, Lizzie Graham

Tina Herpe, Nancy Bashook, Liz Coustan, Rich Libles, Jessie Macdonald, Jeff Forgash, Nathan Render