Two of Federation's Mitzvah Mania projects will go far beyond merely helping to alleviate food insecurity and fight poverty. The volunteers who participate in the "Souper Bowl" and "Adopt-a-Family" for Chanukah projects will provide those in need with much more than the basic necessities of food and clothing. For each pint of homemade soup and each Chanukah gift selected reflects the spirit of love and concern that binds volunteer and service recipient together as a caring Jewish community.
"Souper Bowl" encourages healthy competition to meet the goal of preparing 1,800 pints of soup to those served by the Klein JCCs' Kosher Home-Delivered Meals Program.
The program, which receives funding from Federation, delivers five to seven frozen meals a week to homebound seniors who are unable to cook. Soup prepared during the event will supplement these meals, which are prepared as part of the Cook-for-a-Friend program throughout the Greater Philadelphia area.
In this, the first part of the "Souper Bowl" competition, synagogues, Jewish day schools and other organizations are pledging to cook pints of soup.
Those who pledge the highest quantity by Oct. 15 will receive a special prize -- a hands-on cooking session with Michael Solomonov, chef and co-owner of Zahav -- the highly acclaimed Israeli restaurant in Old City.
Solomonov, who previously served as sous chef at Philadelphia's Vetri, was one of five finalists in the 2009 James Beard Rising Star chef competition. The chef will share his recipe for "Yemenite Soup" with the prize-winners and teach them professional cooking techniques.
Steve Cook, co-owner of Zahav, which was named one of the top 20 new restaurants in the United States for 2009 by Esquire and ranked No. 1 in Philadelphia by Philadelphiamagazine, said that he was excited to involve his restaurant in the "Souper Bowl" project.
"Many of our recipes come from our grandmothers, and I see this as an opportunity for the community to cook for our collective grandparents," he said.
"One of our Mitzvah Mania goals is to ensure that at-risk seniors stay warm this winter. There's nothing better on a bitter, winter's day than a bowl of warm, homemade soup," said Simi Kaplin Baer, who is Mitzvah Mania co-chair, along with her husband, Marc Baer; Lana and Bernie Dishler; and Jacqueline Needleman and her husband, David Cohen.
Several "Souper Bowl" teams have already signed up on the Mitzvah Mania Web site (jewishphilly.org/mitzvahmania), and have committed to cook either vegetable or chicken soup, store and freeze in containers, and then deliver this "Jewish penicillin" to the Klein JCC before the day of community service on Nov. 1.
Edy Israel, adviser to the United Synagogue Youth group at Temple Sinai in Dresher, said that the group is excited to participate.
"This USY group loves to cook, loves to be in the kitchen, and loves to do acts of chesed --so this is a perfect tzedakah project for us," she said. "Our group also hopes to make the most soup and win the prize!"
The USY group will prepare soup at its synagogue kitchen in Dresher. Additional cooking sites throughout the area are listed on the Mitzvah Mania Web site (jewishphilly.org/mitzvahmania). Volunteer cooks are encouraged to register online.
Nina Cohen, director of the Mitzvah Food Pantry at the Klein JCC, will provide recipes, containers and information for cooking sites. It is not too late for synagogues or Jewish organizations to register for the "Souper Bowl." To do so, e-mail: NCohen @phillyjcc.com.
Game day for contenders is Sunday, Nov. 1, also known as Mitzvah Mania.
From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., project volunteers will meet at the Klein JCC to deliver frozen soup and meals together with a friendly visit. Volunteers can register to participate in one or both parts of this competition.
Making Chanukah Brighter
For Julia Engel, chair of the "Adopt-a-Family" project, volunteering completes the circle of generations.
"When I volunteer," she noted, "I am an active role model for the next generation, demonstrating generosity, compassion, and empathy -- respect for others."
Volunteers for the "Adopt-a-Family" project select an anonymous family and purchase Chanukah gifts from their selected "wish lists."
Thirty Northeast Philadelphia families in need will benefit from this year's project. These families are facing serious challenges, due to illness, the death of a spouse, the economic downturn and/or other difficult circumstances.
"In the past, both individual families and groups, such as grade-school classrooms, have adopted a family," explained Engel, a community-health nurse.
The groups meet at the Klein JCC to wrap their purchases on Mitzvah Mania day.
This year, volunteers are encouraged to purchase gift cards because they "afford the parent an opportunity that otherwise they might not have this Chanukah -- to shop for his or her child. We know how satisfying that is to a parent," said Engel.
Mitzvah Mania offers volunteer opportunities for people of all ages.
Said Engel: "On Mitzvah Mania day, there is energy in the air, a real buzz, as volunteers band together, and people's lives are enhanced."
For more information on all Mitzvah Mania projects, call the hotline at 215-832-0564 or visit: jewishphilly.org/mitzvah mania.