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two journeys, one destination

03/01/2022 02:14:44 PM


Andi Zussman & Heidi Schell

How Compassion from Others Led us to Mitzvah Meals

Andi's Story
My mom’s sudden death in August 2019 left me and my family in shock. The PTS community and other friends supported us through our profound grief in many ways for which I am deeply thankful. Gratitude for one way in particular – bringing us dinner – has led me to a deeply meaningful volunteer role at PTS.  It wasn’t just the practical support the many meals provided; in the early days after her death, I found it difficult to focus on practical things like making dinner. But even more important than the delicious food was the “warm embrace” and connection they symbolized. It was comforting to see a familiar face at our door, and was also wonderful when a congregant we had never met delivered a home-cooked meal to us.
For 20+ years, I had seen my mom, as a lay leader, develop and lead a multi-faceted and thriving Caring Community program at her synagogue in Los Angeles. After she died, I was comforted by the stories of the lives she touched directly and indirectly through this role and want to honor her by giving my time and energy to strengthening our own Caring Community at PTS. Because of my continued gratitude for those who literally and figuratively fed my family, a meals program seemed like the best place to start.
Together with Heidi Schell, who had her own journey, we created Mitzvah Meals.

Heidi's Story
In 2013 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. While this unwelcome news came early on in my Jewish journey at PTS, the clergy and community immediately and genuinely demonstrated to me and my family what it means to be part of a caring Jewish community. I agreed to have my name added to the Mi Shebeirach list read during Shabbat services, and received the heartfelt prayers and support with gratitude. A PTS friend offered to organize meals for my family while I recovered from surgery. I was beyond grateful for the practical support -- one less thing for my husband, Steve, to worry about while taking care of me and our then 7-year-old daughter. The emotional support represented by the meals also had a profound impact. One day Steve commented that he had known the community would show up for me as the patient. What he hadn’t realized was that the community was also there for him and our entire family. He, too, felt the warm embrace of our caring community. 

As a beneficiary of PTS’s caring community, I was inspired to find ways for others to experience that same warm embrace during challenging times. I found a kindred spirit in Andi Zussman and together we created Mitzvah Meals.

Mitzvah Meals
was created in May of 2021 as a new Caring Community offering, and was built off of the work of G’milut Chasadim and the larger Caring Community program. Mitzvah Meals engages volunteers who sign up to provide meals to congregants during times of illness, bereavement, or following the birth of a child. The program is rooted in our core values of Caring & Kindness and Human Connection, and provides a “nourishing hug” from our community as well as practical support. Since Mitzvah Meals started, 45 volunteers have joined our team and have provided a total of 116 meals to 12 different congregants and their families.

Some congregants have been initially reluctant to accept meals, thinking that they didn’t really “need” it (financially or otherwise), that others were more “deserving,” or because they felt more comfortable providing a meal than receiving one. Yet, the program is less about the “need” and more about allowing the community to extend its caring embrace. So we developed our first tagline – “It’s not a handout, it’s a hug.” We also worried that volunteers might not offer to support a family they’ve never met; for those who have done so, it has been a deeply meaningful experience. 

We are gratified to know that Mitzvah Meals has been a positive experience for meal recipients:

“This community has given me so much support – both practical and emotional. I will be forever grateful.”  –Recipient

"Thank you to everyone who supported our family with home-cooked meals and gift cards. Each meal was such a gift to us, not only of nourishing food but of time we could spend together learning how to be a family of three. Our little baby is thriving, as are we!"  –Recipient

Providing a meal, whether home-cooked or from a restaurant has also been moving for our volunteer meal providers:

"I love and appreciate the opportunity to bring a Mitzvah Meal to a PTS family whom I don’t know. The receiving family is always amazed that someone who doesn’t know them cares enough to reach out with a meal, and it expands my world in a very meaningful way."  –Volunteer 

“Delivering a meal to my fellow congregant was such a rewarding experience. I had the opportunity to foster a deeper connection while learning more about her remarkable life and family.”  –Volunteer

Given that Mitzvah Meals is often called upon during times of illness and bereavement, we are careful to respect the privacy of the recipients. We only request and share with our volunteers the most essential information, with permission from the recipient.

Creating Mitzvah Meals has been a dream come true for us, and we are indebted to those who came before us. It has been incredibly gratifying to see a volunteer reserve an upcoming slot, view a meal signup with no empty slots, receive heartfelt testimonies from appreciative recipients, and hear from volunteers how rewarding their experiences have been.

Thanks to our amazing volunteers, our gracious recipients, and our collaboration with Rabbi Lisa Delson and Bev Rochelle, our vision has become a reality in Mitzvah Meals. We look forward to growing the program and welcome your involvement.

To learn more, email or click here.

Tue, April 23 2024 15 Nisan 5784