Why Women’s Groups are Good for Synagogues

Inside Leadership

Why Women’s Groups are Good for Synagogues

People around a table eating

I recently taught a cooking class for a Sisterhood event at my temple. Certainly, how to teach such a class was not something I learned in cantorial school, and in fact, many of the activities I participate in at Congregation Schaarai Zedek in Tampa, FL, are not expressly musical.

However, the Sisterhood asked me to lead this class after I taught an Israeli cooking class last May. I had based that class on one I attended in Jerusalem during a congregational trip to Israel two years ago. Such classes are popular among visitors, and based on the many positive online reviews, I decided to try one while we were in Jerusalem.

The groups are small, and the instructors teach the classes in their own homes. Our instructor, Omri Rubin, was a wonderful host! On the morning of our class, he took the four people in our group to the Machane Yehuda Market (the Shuk) for a look around and to shop for the ingredients we would need. We then walked to his apartment where we prepared and ate the dishes. It was one of the highlights of that trip to Israel!

After that experience, I decided to share what I had learned with our congregation. In a presentation that would have made The Food Network proud, I created five of the dishes we had made with Omri Rubin, and then served them to the class. It was a lot of fun and an extremely popular event. Many of our Sisterhood members were present and asked if I would consider teaching a similar class for their upcoming membership appreciation event, with one caveat: they wanted the class to be participatory – for about 50 people.

To be honest, I was surprised the Sisterhood wanted a cooking class at all. For many years, Jewish women have been shying away from activities that traditionally were thought of as “women’s activities.”  As Shelley Lindauer, a former executive director of Women of Reform Judaism stated in 2005: “Reform Jewish women are interested in coming together for one or more purposes: spirituality, social justice, socializing, or advocacy. Unlike the women of past generations, the women of today are more focused on the spiritual aspects of being together and seek a deeper connection to God through Sisterhood.”

Nonetheless, I agreed to teach the class.

Using a pirate theme based on Tampa’s Gasparilla Festival, scheduled for the same week, I chose dishes that could be prepared in 40 minutes or fewer. On the evening of the event, after providing initial instructions for each recipe, I stood back and watched. I was struck by the camaraderie as women interacted with other women, some of whom where new to the crowd, and many of whom were not part of their normal circle of friends.

Delicious smells of dishes dubbed with pirate-themed names – Cannonball Meatballs (Raspberry Chipotle Meatballs), Salsa d’Oro (Mango Salsa) and BaySide Skillet (Pasta, Chicken, and Tomato Skillet) – filled the social hall.

As participants ate, drank, and complimented each other’s creations, I reflected on the benefit of Sisterhood in our synagogues. There is something unique, warm, and incredibly special about a women’s group. It not only presents myriad opportunities for members to express their Jewish identities – whether they attend religious services or not – but also offers a way to draw inactive women back to an important aspect of synagogue life.

Bon appetit!

Interested in organizing a Sisterhood cooking class in your synagogue? Email Cantor Cannizzaro to learn more.

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Cantor Deborrah Cannizzaro serves Congregation Schaarai Zedek in Tampa, FL. She is a member of the executive board of the American Conference of Cantors, and treasurer of the Bay Area Cantors Association in Southwest Florida.

Cantor Deborrah Cannizzaro
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