By Michelle November
My Grandma Ruby, may she rest in peace, knew that comfort food, especially blintzes, could sweeten even the most difficult times. At least for that moment. Two generations and a devastating Southern Californian firestorm later, I am still amazed at how right she was.
In the midst of the Southern California fires, those blintzes brought together seven Jewish communities and ultimately delivered a measure of comfort to the Ilan Ramon Day School community of Agoura.
The traveling blintz adventure began as I sat in my office at de Toledo High School in West Hills, where I serve as Director of Admissions. That morning, I was part of the joint de Toledo-Congregation Or Ami team, helping respond to the fires that caused at least 70% of our synagogue to evacuate their homes. Under the leadership of Rabbi Julia Weisz and Rabbi Paul Kipnes, and in partnership with Rabbi Ben Goldstein of Temple Aliyah, and the support of the Jewish Federation and Jewish Family Service, a Pop Up Kids Camp and Adult Hangout was opened to offer safe space and caring for the evacuated.
I received a text from my friend, Elana Zimmerman, Program Director at Encino’s Valley Beth Shalom, explaining that a Bar Mitzvah service and reception had been evacuated to VBS from West Hills’ Shomrei Torah Synagogue. ”We have blintzes and other delicious leftovers. Does Congregation Or Ami’s Day Camp need it?”
And thus began the journey of the blintz tray.
It became clear pretty quickly that the Day Camp had sufficient food for itself after people continued to drop off donations. A grateful community ensured it had enough donated food to fulfill its needs.
However, word had reached us that Ilan Ramon was gathering at de Toledo for a Havdalah service to bring comfort following the fire’s destruction of their central buildings. I heard my Grandma Ruby whispering in my ear that full bellies, and especially sweet blintzes, might bring a measure of comfort to these young families. At least for a moment.
But how to get the trays from VBS to de Toledo? A de Toledo family at the Bar Mitzvah eagerly agreed to drive them over. Soon enough, dTHS student Zachary K. unloaded the trays from his car and schlepped them onto campus. By the time the blintzes arrived, buffet tables had been set up, fulfilling Head of School, Mark Shpall’s fire response mandate, “whatever the community needs.” We cleaned out refrigerator space to keep the food fresh.
I heard from Or Ami’s Rabbi Julia Weisz, whose child attends Ilan Ramon, that their Havdalah was beautiful and comforting. And that the blintzes hit the spot. (By then, I was in a home of Or Ami congregants, surrounded by evacuees and those who wanted to provide support. We swayed to the strum of the guitar while singing the Havdalah prayers, intermittently sharing tears of sadness with stories of loving, neighborly outreach.)
I have always been a believer in the power of community to transcend boundaries and bring people together. But who would have thought sweet blintzes, transported seamlessly with kindness through seven communities, could temporarily weave us together? Yet they did, traveling from Valley Beth Shalom and Shomrei Torah Synagogue by means of de Toledo High School to a Congregation Or Ami-Temple Aliyah-Jewish Federation Kids Camp to ultimately bring support and love to Ilan Ramon Day School families.
Now that’s what I call community.
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Michelle November is Director of Admissions at de Toledo High School, West Hills, Calif.