Reuvena Grodnitzky misses hosting Shabbat dinner.
“Every Friday night up until the whole pandemic started, we would host many, many guests for Shabbos,” the Chabad Young Philly co-director said. “People are always asking, ‘How can I make the food? Can I have the recipe?’ We always joke that the real reason that people come is because they like the food.”
She can’t host these gatherings now due to social distancing, but she has provided guests with the next best thing: a cookbook based on their favorite foods.
“Oneg: A Culinary Shabbos Experience” was released on July 14 and sold more than 100 copies its first week.
“What’s really special about this project is it’s not just a cookbook; it’s actually an extension of our whole Chabad house and mission,” Grodnitzky said.
In addition to providing popular recipes for hummus and sushi salad, the book guides readers through Shabbat rituals like kiddush and hand-washing.
“Each recipe page has a teaching or some sort of key inspiration on it,” Grodnitzky said. “The recipe for olive dip explains why olives are special in Jewish teachings and how they’re one of the seven species of fruits that are particular to the land of Israel.”
Grodnitzky began writing the book in June 2019. She wanted to give her Shabbat guests a way to recreate the foods they associate with their community.
“These are all the recipes that guests eat every week over the years at our Chabad house — all the favorites they are used to eating at our table,” she said.
She assembled the content herself, and the book became a combination of her own recipes and recipes she got from her Chabad house colleagues. The sesame noodles, for example, are served at many campus Chabads.
“‘These are not all my original recipes,” she said. “I’m not putting this on Amazon. It’s more just a gift for our community so they can recreate Friday night.”
She considered working with a photographer, but ultimately decided to create her own artwork using her smartphone.
“I did some research on how to get good photos using natural light and just the phone camera, and it actually came out better than I expected,” she said.
Larry and Harriet Weiss paid for the book to be printed and bound at cutpasteandprint, a printer in Huntington Valley. The couple attended a dinner at Grodnitzky’s house and were so impressed with the food and atmosphere they offered to help her create her cookbook.
“The important thing that touched Larry and myself was that she’s forming a sense of community for Jewish students,” Harriet Weiss said.
Grodnitzky initially hoped for the project to break even. Now, with printing and binding costs covered, she is able to sell the book at chabadyoungphilly.org/cookbook as a fundraiser for Chabad’s programs.
The book has been a form of community outreach now that the pandemic has put a pause on her Shabbat dinners, which could host as many as 100 guests.
“We really wish we could be there for the community,” Grodnitzky said. “We give out challah and chicken soup on Fridays often, but we can’t provide the full Friday-night experience. It really is divine providence that now we have this book that people can use in their homes to make their favorite recipes and go through Friday night step by step.”
Many Chabad Young Philly members are excited to get their hands on a copy.
Sari Zlotnick thinks Grodnitzky brings a special touch to Shabbat.
“It always makes me feel so at home. It’s such a warm community feeling, and I feel her cooking really adds to that,” Zlotnick said.
Ian Lander, another frequent Shabbat attendee, is looking forward to reading Grodnitzky’s recipes for his favorite foods.
“She does a slow-cooked chicken dish that falls off the bone and melts in your mouth,” he said. “I’m also a fan of the salads.”
Zlotnick noted that the book’s release was timed perfectly since the pandemic has motivated more people to cook from home.
“I can’t wait to start using the recipes in my own kitchen,” she said.