Enjoying a meal without counting calories and doing diets has been a source of tension for most of Wendy Shanker’s life.
It was always that extra 10 to 20 pounds that consumed her.
Her wake up-call came after she spent $10,000 to stay a month in a spa and lost only two pounds.
“For my whole life food was an enemy, and it was a problem. Now I understand that food is nourishment for the body, but it’s also nourishment for the soul,” said Shanker, who has a 2-year-old daughter, Sunny, whom she hopes to guide in a different direction.
Shanker, a free-lance writer, her daughter and her mother, Myrna, a property manager, recently attended Our Family Table, a series of cooking classes at Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach. The classes, conducted by The Open Tent, teach cooking techniques and bring Judaism into the lives of unaffiliated Jews. The next class is Friday.
“We are really all about trying to build community. We’re trying to create connections for this group of unaffiliated Jews,” said Vanessa Ressler, one of the original board members who started The Open Tent in 2008.
Rabbi Gary Glickstein of Temple Beth Sholom was one of the people behind The Open Tent, which is loosely affiliated with the temple.
“It was meant not as a way to bring people to the synagogue, but help them in their journey to become part of the Jewish community,’’ he said.
Open Tent uses the temple’s space to host its events, which include a six-week program for expectant parents, called Shalom Baby; an initiative, called The Tribe, to engage young adults with Judaism; and Shalom Tots, a monthly program for new parents and their children.
Our Family Table’s cooking classes evolved from Shalom Tots. The classes are hands-on with the toddlers, with adult supervision.
“An event like that one is really one of the first steps that we can take in [Sunny’s] early life to get her on the road to understanding that food is more than just calories,” said Shanker, 41. “It’s family, it’s sweetness, it’s nourishment and it’s being part of a community.”
Chef Joy Prevor leads the cooking lessons, coaching the parents and their children through the ingredients, seasoning, and the right pots and pans to use. The food is prepared kosher style, but the recipes are not strictly Jewish.
“We wanted to be very practical and help these families learn how to cook and how to feed their families in a way that’s healthy, and simultaneously reflect on what role food is playing in their family life,” said Prevor.
Prevor, 40, who holds a master’s degree in Jewish studies, organizes the classes toward Jewish traditions, bringing in Jewish text from The Talmud for discussion. She teaches cooking techniques rather than just recipes.
“Once they learn certain techniques they can make their own recipes at home and feed their families in a healthy way, but it also allows them to engage their children in the process of cooking,” Prevor said.
During the first class, the children assisted their parents, played with cooking toys and colored in images on a storyboard with the steps of making the meal.
The parents learned how to make a banana smoothie, Greek salad with a vinaigrette dressing and moussaka, the Greek lasagna-type dish. Prevor’s idea is to teach one recipe for babies, a second one for parents on the run and a third one to store for the week.
The last class will focus on Shabbat, a religious celebration that happens every Friday after sundown and signifies the start of the Sabbath. It’s when families gather around the table to say prayers, reflect about their lives, spend time with each other and eat.
“So we are taking the essence of this tradition and providing people a very accessible way to incorporate it into their lifestyle,” said Rebecca Dinar, director of the Open Tent. “And from our perspective, it’s really about making Judaism relevant.”
Shanker enjoyed watching her daughter separate the parsley leaves and playing with other children. “I thought it was good for Sunny, as little as she is, to start feeling that there’s our family, but there’s also a bigger community that she is part of.”