More than 150 people of different faiths and backgrounds converged upon the kitchen at Har Sinai Congregation on Jan. 21 for what the Owings Mills temple and St. John’s Episcopal Church in Glyndon characterized as a “Holy Casseroley.”
The participants — consisting of 50 Har Sinai congregants, 50 St. John’s parishioners, and members of other congregations and religious groups — prepared 175 casseroles (approximately 4,000 meals) for Paul’s Place, which provides services and programs to low-income residents of the Pigtown/Washington Village community, and The Baltimore Station, which supports military veterans in need.
The number selected for the amount of casseroles was in honor of the 175th anniversary of Har Sinai, the nation’s oldest continuously Reform congregation.
“It was a wonderful event,” said Arleen Shepherd, co-chair of Har Sinai’s social action committee, who organized Sunday’s event with her husband, Shep, and claimed she coined the phrase “Holy Casseroley.”
Shepherd said Har Sinai has held the event for the past five years, but this marked the first time it was opened to the general community and co-sponsored with St. John’s. Among the volunteers and casserole connoisseurs there were Har Sinai’s Rabbi Linda Joseph and Cantor Robert Gerber, as well as Rev. Tracy Bruce and and Rev. Joe Cochran of St. John’s.
Prior to the event, approximately 30 St. John’s congregants received a tour of Har Sinai’s facility provided by a group of the temple’s teen madrichim, or guides, who also spoke about the Jewish tradition and rituals.
“It was really fun to do it with others this year. There was so much positive energy,” said Shepherd, who lives in Sparks. “A lot of friendships were made, with a real exchange of information.”
She said 10 different types of “enormous” casseroles were baked, including lasagna, chicken with rice, baked ziti and meatballs, chicken tetrazzini and Beefaroni. “It only took about an hour to make all of those casseroles,” said Shepherd, noting that her house now looks “like a mess” in the aftermath of the event.
Funding and ingredients for the casseroles — 300 jars of pasta sauce, 240 pounds of pasta, 140 pounds of chicken, 170 pounds of beef and lots of fresh vegetables — were donated by congregants of Har Sinai and St. John’s. Meanwhile, the equipment for the production of the meals was donated by Camp Skylemar, a summer camp for boys in southern Maine which is owned and operated by the Shepherds.
“Instead of focusing on what makes us different, the Holy Casseroley demonstrates that we really are much the same,” Shepherd said. “Each of us faces challenging times at some point. If we join hands, focus on kindness and help each other, we’ll all succeed.”
Photos by Daniel Kucin Jr.