A recipe for sleepless nights

Every job and Jewish volunteer role I’ve had has produced at least one great recipe. Thankfully in these times, I have quite a collection.

In the mid-1990s, it began with the chocolate-covered matzah I got when the first woman rabbi at Stanford University started a discussion group for Jewish female faculty and staff. That recipe has now been sent to friends and family near and far—and I can’t even count the times I have made a batch to ease whatever stress was happening at work.

Then there is the scrumptious potato kugel I got from the young rabbi’s wife who invited us to lunch at her home in Jerusalem on Shabbat. I was there to help bring the beauty and wisdom of Jewish text study to American college students. Truth was, I saw myself as taking that life-changing journey with them, and I’m still on it.

The secret ingredient in my grandmother Ida Smolkin’s strudel is gum drops.

When I stepped up to lead development of a Jewish community campus here in Palo Alto, I took the risk of baking my grandmother’s strudel for my debut meeting with major donors—mostly men, and mostly harboring serious doubts about whether I was up to the challenge. I wasn’t afraid to be the woman baking cookies—because I knew that an authentic taste of something Jewish would open their hearts—and it did.

And what about the crunchy sesame treats I first tasted at a Jewish Women’s Theatre board strategy retreat? I served them at the women’s Purim party and Torah study I hosted at my house after my mother died.  Mom was the only person in New Orleans to negotiate an insurance payment for the homemade rugelach that was in her freezer when Hurricane Katrina destroyed my parents’ home.
On nights in these times when I can’t sleep, I go into the kitchen and read Gil Marks’ amazing “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food.” If ever there was a time to delve into a two-page essay on mandel bread (and discover why my Alabama grandmother used pecans and dates instead of almonds), surely this is it.
With special thanks to the Jewish Women’s Theatre for featuring this post as part of its new digital storytelling project. “Inside Our Time” illuminates aspects of what we are all feeling and experiencing right now.  For more true stories from JWT community members, visit Inside Our Time.
About the Author
Shelley is a consultant who has held executive and board leadership roles in the San Francisco Bay Area/Silicon Valley Jewish community. She led development of the Palo Alto Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life, was board president of Hillel at Stanford, and has served on the advisory boards of the Jewish Chaplaincy at Stanford Medical Center, the Taube Center for Jewish Studies and the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture. At Stanford she was the university's Director of Business Development and Executive Director for Public Affairs at Stanford Health Care. She began her career as a journalist and currently focuses on strategic communications and writing. Email: hebert.shelleys@gmail.com
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