Eager kindergarteners were sprinkling chocolate chips or rainbow jimmies (sometimes both, if they were feeling creative) onto trays of cookies ready to head into the ovens at Congregations of Shaare Shamayim on Dec. 22.
The cookies were part of the synagogue’s annual Holiday Cookie Project and were baked in rounds, first by the students and later by two groups of older adults.
By the time the baking was finished, there were about 1,100 cookies — maybe a few less if Shaare Shamayim Executive Director Jacques Lurie got his hands on some, he laughed, adding that this is “a whole synagogue effort” — ready to be delivered on Christmas morning to doctors, nurses and staff at six area health care centers and hospitals.
Last year, the cookies were delivered to first responders, ambulance drivers, firemen and police officers.
“If they’re working over the holidays, it’s something to brighten up their night or day,” said kindergarten teacher Rebecca Tyer. “They’re not home with their families so hopefully they can enjoy some sweetness while they’re … helping their patients.”
The kids made cards with holiday greetings and pictures to go with the cookies.
“One of the most important parts of our program is to be able to teach the children that by performing good deeds, performing mitzvot, they have the capability of changing the world one good deed at a time,” said Sherri Herschfeld, preschool director, adding that they perform mitzvah projects all throughout the year.
This year, by teaming up with the larger synagogue effort to bake the cookies, it showed the kids a way to create change and bring joy to others.
“They’re baking 1,000 cookies. That’s a lot of cookies but it will be a lot of smiles as well,” she said.
Alex Verwoerd, 5 and ¼ (she was very specific), was baking with her classmates to make the doctors and nurses feel happy.
“They can’t go home with their families and celebrate, and they work day and night and day and night and day and night,” she said.
Grace Boston, 5 and ½, said the cookies looked good — and smelled good, too.
“I hope they feel happy,” she said, “because they don’t get to have food because they have to work all day and night.”
Lydia Levy, 5 and ¾, had fun baking that morning and wanted the hospital staff who gets the cookies to feel happy “because they’re not at home doing the holidays with their families.”
At around 2 p.m., the first group of adults came in to bake cookies called Santa’s Trash. (The final product — cookies with crushed potato chips, pretzels and chocolate chips — is more appetizing than its name suggests.)
“This is just a nice way of us saying thank you,” said Mindy Poliner, noting her daughter is a nurse. “She has worked every Christmas because it’s not her holiday, and she feels people should be home with their families. She works so that other people can stay home.”
For other baking volunteers, it’s a way of showing appreciation for the hospital staff.
“It was good to involve the children, it teaches them community service,” said longtime congregant Denise Ellner. “And for the adults, it’s good for us to give back to the community, too, and to show the people in health care that we think about them and care about them, especially if they have to work when it’s their holiday.”
“That there are people out there that care that they’re working on the holiday and that what they do is really important and really appreciated,” added Lynn Ratmansky, of the message it sends.
For Membership Coordinator Debbie Hersh, the project, which she organized, is a community builder — and a delicious one, at that.
“Cookies are universal,” she laughed. “I mean, can you ever walk into any place and turn down a cookie? Whereas latkes, people don’t always know what those are. So we want to make it so that more than just Jewish people can enjoy it. It’s really for everyone, whether they celebrate Chanukah, Christmas, whether they’re atheist — whatever it is, so that they can enjoy having a little bit of cheer. [To let them know] someone is thinking about them on the holidays.”
She was especially looking forward to the Christmas Day deliveries. “I’ve only done it once before,” she said, “but just seeing their faces and seeing that someone cares is so nice.”