Students from Middle and high school were organized to help Tomchei shabbos of Queens, NY package and deliver food parcels to indigent families. Significant sums of money were raised for this project through the preparation, cooking and sale of Cholent in the community by these students.
The program developed serves to instill in the students that participate in it a sense of community service on a basic fundamental level. Students are given the opportunity to do hands on work in order to help the indigent in a meaningful way. The fundraising that resulted in tremendous amounts of tzedaka being given was truly beside the point but definitely gave a great sense of accomplishment and pride to the students. There were two sides to this program. Both were aimed at feeding the hungry that were being helped by a Queens NY based organization called Tomchei Shabbos of Queens. There are many such organizations in the many Jewish communities we live in. One side of the program did packing and delivery while the other side made and sold cholent to synagogues and individuals and raised well over half a million dollars since the inception of the program twenty years ago. Students learned about responsibility, accountability, compassion, gratitude, humility and service above self.
As an educator over the last twenty six years I have worked (and still do) directing Youth programs in synagogues, Day Camps, Student Activities in middle and High School. However, my primary function and passion is, and has always been, teaching Torah. There are questions we grapple with as educators. How is what I’m teaching really affecting our children when they become adults? What will they remember? How do we turn a kid into a mensch? What about the kids who are not academically inclined? These questions and others like have always been a great concern to me and my peers. Most educators will agree that it is often the work we do with students outside of class that has the deepest, longest lasting impact. This is certainly so regarding the students with academic challenges. I decided to make an impact where I felt I could teach students from affluent communities about what it means for those in our community to have less and how to do something about it. I grew up in a family that struggled financially and now found myself teaching in the local yeshiva day school of Great Neck, NY. I was also directing a youth program in the largest shul in the local area with over 700 families. This was a situation where I felt I could be very effective in exposing the children to the outside world and offer a wide variety of children the opportunity to learn and achieve outside the classroom
I grew up in Bronx, NY, trying to make money whenever I could even while attending school. I wound up working in the food Industry. This included cooking, waitering, managing catering parties as I got older, etc… Years later, while youth directing at the Great Neck Synagogue I would host a weekly tish for high school kids in shul where we would sing, give divrei Torah and eat cholent after services on Shabbat morning (cholent was certainly the main draw). Originally, I would order it from the local vendor but it tasted terrible. Aware of my background in food services several of my peers asked me why I didn’t just make it myself. Although reluctant at first I finally did it and attendance skyrocketed. Many adults began to sneak in. Eventually the same peers asked why I didn’t sell it to the public. I balked at the idea but eventually came around to it and decided to do it but I vowed to give all of the proceeds to Tomchei Shabbos of Queens. In relatively short order, I was sending pots of cholent to private homes in 6qt bags and to the local shul in commercial size crock pots of 24 qts each. Soon people from other communities asked for it to be served at their local shul on shabbos during their weekly kiddush. As demand grew and the workload became greater I decided to turn it into a Chessed activity for my students which is still going on today over twenty years later.
Before school on Friday mornings I would meet with several students in the kitchen of the Great Neck Synagogue Which was conveniently located in the same building as the North Shore Hebrew Academy Middle School. Today this is done in Roslyn Long Island in the Talmud Torah of Temple Beth Sholom. It is also done regularly in SAR Middle School in Riverdale, NY after school on a monthly basis
Students are given the recipe and need to work out the details of mass production. They get the hang of it quickly but need to be conscientious and detail oriented. They lay out bags to put the cholent in. These bags are used for storage in an industrial sized chest freezer and the same bag is used to actually cook the cholent in the crock pot. (much less cleanup). Teams of students pair off and are given a specific ingredient to measure and then insert. When all ingredients are put in everyone pitches in to eliminate the air from the bags and tie them off before they are put into the freezer. The kids again work beautifully together and have to use basic math skills (including dreaded fractions to measure spices in order to complete the task. When they are done I always make sure that they are able to be present when the cholent is cooked and served in their school so that they get credit for having done it and become celebrities in school for the day. The smell permeates the building due to being cooked through the night and it is on everyone’s mind. Last batch we made forty large bags which will translate into 1400lb of cholent. The children and their parents are incredulous when they hear about it and see photos of this. I have replicated this process in camp, day school and Talmud Torah. Several parents have made this their bat mitzvah project and one had me set up a station at her daughters actual bat mitzvah celebration. Every family made a bag and donated the bag itself to Tomchei Shabbos. At this point we do between $20-30,000 annually and have sold over $700,000 since it’s inception over twenty years ago. At present SAR was going institute a drive for scholarship funds utilizing the sale of cholent produced by its students it the principal said that he loved the idea of the finds going to feed the needy and that it was a great learning tool for the students.
After the students have done it for the first time I always debrief them with a story of the history of my involvement in this project. The story includes the most celebrated of all the successes of this projects. This does not refer to the money raised but rather to the change it has made in the lives of the participants. I will not go into great detail and take the time and space to tell the whole story here. However, a brilliant student was going to be expelled for NSHA for having no manners. He was rude and disrespectful and the principal wanted to make an example of him to show support for his teaching staff and to set an example for the student body. The father came to me and asked for my help. Intensive Cholent Therapy began that week. He arrived at 5:30 am every Friday and worked with me to cook for the community. The change in his behavior was almost immediate. He was put on probation and eventually graduated with honors. He went on to do beautifully in high school, Yeshiva in Israel, University of Pennsylvania, Wharton Business School and then went back to Israel and served in the Israeli army in Tzahal. Presently he works for an American company bit splits his time between the States and Israel. His letter is attached. While I wouldn’t attribute all of his success to cholent, there is no doubt that this was a turning point in his life and has bonded us forever.
Many of the parents of students that have come to cook and prepare Cholent won’t me have called me to thank me for giving their children an opportunity to do Chessed in a meaningful way and learn about responsibility at the same time
One of the categories that I greatly appreciated in this grant proposal was the idea that for an idea to be worthwhile investing in it should be one that can be replicated in other venues. As I’ve described the above idea is viable in multiple settings. It has literally become a staple of
every job I have had. It has become part of who I am (my license plate says CHOLENT-see attached photo). The draw to students might be different depending upon who they are. Some need a bond with their teacher outside the classroom. Others need an experience that is non academic for them to be able to thrive. Still others are fascinated by the business model. Everyone is enthralled with the eating and production of popular food items. Most institutions have access to kitchens and when available private homes afford an even greater level of intimacy and investment which is powerful. My wife has hosted many challah baking classes in our home which have phenomenal results in young women taking on a greater level of observance and appreciation of shabbos.
The responsibility taken by students showed a great deal of independence and maturity on their part. One of the most heartwarming examples of this was when I could not make Cholent for a few weeks because I was out of commission and not allowed to lift anything after donating a kidney. I was going to tell the local shul that we would have to buy from a local vendor for a month or so. My students however would have none of that and insisted on doing it themselves. We didn’t skip even one week.
After having spoken to many former students over the years of my career it has become clear to me that the standout experiences they recall and have been affected by are not typically from the lessons they learned from me in class. The time they spent with me making wedding for needy brides, packing and delivering food to needy families, cleaning up homes after hurricane Sandy and other real life experiences have made the longest lasting impact. However, this particular project was by far and away the most impactful because it has been constant for over twenty years. It has been a tool in my Kiruv cache that I have gone to again and again to be able to affect young minds and hearts. It is my great hope to be able to continue to do this work for as long as I can and to influence others to do the same.
Dear Rabbi Moskowitz,
I am writing you regarding my experiences with the Tomchei Shabbos of Queens food program, and the affiliated cholent making.
During my days with you at North Shore Hebrew Academy, I remember how you would take children that had behavioral problems, trouble at home, etc, and transform them with the unassuming cholent making process. Whether it was giving structure to their mornings, helping them contribute to something
greater than themselves, or simply giving them a private and confidential environment to speak with a caring adult, these kids were always changed for the better.
Shortly after college, I began doing regular deliveries for Tomchei Shabbat. Words cannot describe the gratitude that it has imbued in my life. Whenever I thought that I had problems, throughout the various stages of my life (single, married, professional, etc) all I needed to do was hand a box of food to a hungry stranger, and the issues in my life would be instantly put in perspective. Even packing the canned food, cheeses, and chickens into boxes with peers in the warehouse gave me a valuable sense of community.
And still, more than 10 years later, I get very excited when my delivery route contains the meats, lentils, and beans that have to be delivered to that kitchen in the back of that school, where that rabbi would spend an hour in the morning with that troubled kid, to make that simple pot of cholent.
THE HAKIMIAN ORGANIZATION
8 West 40th Street – Sixth Floor
New York, NY 10018
Tel (212) 683-9292 x24
Fax (212) 683-8109
Reflecting on my time in Rabbi Moskowitz’s “Chesed and Chumash” Talmud Torah Program
By: Matthew Shore
I will forever cherish my time learning with Rabbi Steven Moskowitz. What was so special about Rabbi Moskowitz’s Talmud Torah Program was that our lessons went beyond the classroom, …and into the kitchen. You see, as a student in Rabbi Moskowitz’s program I had the opportunity to assist Rabbi Moskowitz with his ongoing chesed project for Tomchei Shabbos of Queens which entailed preparing cholent in the synagogue kitchen. The cholent would then be delivered to the clients of Tomchei Shabbos and sold to synagogue congregants with the proceeds going to Tomchei Shabbos. It was the blend of chesed and Chumash in particular that made my experience in Rabbi Moskowitz’s program so remarkable. What I loved about learning with Rabbi Moskowitz was that I knew I was learning more about my heritage and culture in the classroom but also helping the less fortunate in my community at the same time – the best of all worlds. In this way, time spent in Rabbi Moskowitz’s Talmud Torah Program is an extremely fulfilling and rewarding investment. To this day I remember insights about the Chumash that I learned from Rabbi Moskowitz in the classroom, the ways in which he made the Chumash come alive, and the parallels to contemporary life that he drew upon to engage his students in biblical lessons and stories. But the lessons I learned from preparing cholent with Rabbi Moskowitz carry equal weight – I learned about the values of good citizenship and communal responsibility from my own experience and also from seeing Rabbi Moskowitz’s long-term commitment and dedication to the project. More tangibly, I gained skills in how to carry out a large-scale service project, from procurement of supplies and maintaining inventory to product delivery and everything in between. My time working
Fridays of 7th grade I smelled like raw meat and onions.
Before school, early, my mother or father would drive me to school, which was in the back of our synagogue building. Hashkama minyan would just be getting started, but the halls off the kitchen were dark. I’d sit on the floor for the few minutes before Rabbi Moskowitz arrived. Somehow he was always showered and wide awake when he did. We made cholent.
Rabbi Moskowitz had been making cholent for years, often with the help of a North Shore Hebrew Academy student. The cholent was no ordinary cholent: it was the best, and it went to good use. One pot the
Rabbi served, with on Shabbat afternoons to the 8th graders, who ate while listening to and sharing divrei torah. But most of it he sold, $50 a bag, the proceeds of which were donated to Tomchei Shabbos, an organization that delivers Shabbos meals to Jewish families who needed them.
It was Rabbi Moskowitz’s idea that I join him. I’d known Rabbi Moskowitz since I was a child, but I had just started middle school, where he taught, and things could have been going better for me. I was an excellent student academically but an impossible one to have in the classroom. I had begun to develop a reputation.
For some reason Rabbi Moskowitz thought that making cholent would help. And for some reason, it did.
It’s hard to
what changed. It
been the humility
with walking around
smelling of raw meat. But more likely, I think , it was the renewed focus that came from donating my time to something meaningful. Getting laughs for mocking teachers began to feel a little absurd.
pinpoint might have that comes
on Rabbi Moskowitz’s project has not only instilled within me a love of lifelong service and set me on a path of actively pursuing service projects but also equipped me for success in the service projects I have been involved in since graduating from Rabbi Moskowitz’s program. Rabbi Moskowitz’s program is an innovative service-learning initiative and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to be his student.
Chesed in action: Rabbi
Posted February 5, 2009
Rabbi Steven Moskowitz organizes ski trips,
coaches basketball, makes a mean cholent, and
teaches his students that doing chesed is not a one
shot deal, but a lifelong commitment
By Lisa Schiffman
Issue of Feb. 6, 2009 / 12 Shevat 5769
Rabbi Steven Moskowitz in motion is a marvel in the art of multi-
tasking. During an interview with a reporter one afternoon in his
office at HAFTR High School — where he teaches philosophy,
Talmud and Jewish law — he managed a busily ringing phone
with one hand while taking bites of his sandwich with the other.
There were frequent interruptions: a colleague eager to discuss
the latest chesed project, and students who wandered into his
office between periods seeking guidance.
About a week earlier, Rabbi Moskowitz had received a phone call
about a Jewish family with eight children living in Crown Heights,
Brooklyn. They had lost everything to a fire that gutted their
apartment. There was pride in his voice as he described how his
students had organized a drive to replace the entire contents of
that family’s apartment. It was obvious that two passions
dominate his life: the need to help those less fortunate, and the
need to teach his students to do the same.
At HAFTR and at the Great Neck Synagogue, where he is co-
youth director with Rabbi Sean Jensen, Rabbi Moskowitz has
made a profound impact on his students. As their teacher, mentor
and friend, he plays an active role in their lives — in contrast to
his own experience growing up in the Bronx.
“When I was growing up, my rabbis had long beards — they didn’t
connect with their students,” he admitted.
Originally, after graduating from Yeshiva University’s Ferkauf
Graduate School of Psychology and receiving Semicha (rabbinic
ordination) from Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary
(RIETS), Rabbi Moskowitz says he planned on becoming a
psychologist. But after accepting a teaching position at the North
Shore Hebrew Academy in 1991 and becoming youth director at
Great Neck Synagogue in 1996, he realized his true vocation as
Settling in Great Neck with wife Adinah and children Chaim,
Zahava, Rafi, and Moshe, Rabbi Moskowitz resolved that he was
going to approach his students differently, giving them the gift of
“You can impact on people more when you’re accessible to them,”
Athletic and charismatic, Rabbi Moskowitz bonded with his
students, accompanying them on skiing and backpacking trips,
coaching basketball, spending Shabbat mornings with them, and
engaging them in chesed projects that have run the gamut from
food and clothing drives to building Sukkahs for needy Jewish
families. His students have made Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and
weddings for poor Jewish families, serving as waiters and
waitresses at their simchas, providing photography and
videography services, and buying gifts.
Rabbi Moskowitz emphasized that it is not the actual chesed they
do, but the personal time his students invest that counts the most.
“As an educator, I look to teach kids not to give money but their
time,” he said. “Teenagers are inundated with charities, but rarely
do they have their own money. Writing a check brings a distance
between charity and the act of charity itself. Chesed comes from
you — your own time and money. Kids are more interested in
doing things with their hands and time than just donating money.
They’re totally involved in the process — it’s not just cutting a
He has instilled his hands-on approach in his students.
“We’ve been doing so many chesed projects,” said HAFTR senior
Rebecca Rubin, who has been in Rabbi Moskowitz’s class since
the beginning of the school year. “We’ve built Sukkahs, served
breakfast with Starbucks coffee and Costco muffins, participated
in an ‘everything drive’ for a family who lost everything in a fire. In
less than a week, we raised everything — ovens, toys, books, and
clothing. It was an incredible experience to see how we could
improve their lives.”
Rubin’s response is precisely the message Rabbi Moskowitz
wishes to impart to his students: that there are people in this
world who face hardship and that their efforts to help do make a
His own efforts serve as a model. In 2004, after responding to an
ad in The Jewish Press, Rabbi Moskowitz donated a kidney to a
total stranger, a Chasidic Jewish woman.
“It was well worth it,” he conceded, making light of his sacrifice,
which entailed major surgery and a five-day hospitalization. “It
was a one shot deal,” he insisted. “Putting things in perspective, I
am less impressed with a person who donates a kidney than one
who donates their time to Tomchei Shabbos. The American
soldiers deployed in Iraq put themselves in harm’s way every
For Rabbi Moskowitz, donating his kidney may have been a “one
shot deal,” but the same cannot be said of his ongoing
involvement in two Jewish charitable organizations: Tomchei
Shabbos of Queens, which delivers Shabbat meals to needy
Jewish families, and OHEL Children’s Home and Family Service’s
Bais Ezra program for the developmentally disabled.
Tomchei Shabbos spokeswoman Adinah Pelman credits Rabbi
Moskowitz with singlehandedly raising awareness in the Great
Neck community about Jewish poverty, and helping to recruit an
army of volunteers.
“Aside from raising money, Rabbi Moskowitz has brought
students of his to do packaging on a regular basis, and has gotten
them excited about it,” she said. “It’s just amazing how he got the
whole community involved.”
Rabbi Moskowitz’s Chesed Cholent Program, in which frozen
bags of his homemade stew of barley, beans, onion, meat and
spices are sold to synagogues and individuals for donation to
Tomchei Shabbos, has netted $180,000 over the last 10 years.
What makes Rabbi Moskowitz so special, explains Rabbi Jensen, is his “consistency” in doing chesed. “This is a guy who gets up at
5:00 a.m. before Shabbos and starts chopping potatoes and
spicing cholent meat to go in the freezer.”
His commitment to OHEL Bais Ezra is another example of his
daily commitment to do chesed, Rabbi Jensen added. “Rabbi
Moskowitz has put OHEL Bais Ezra on the map in Great Neck.”
According to Derek Saker, OHEL’s director of communications,
after Rabbi Moskowitz contacted OHEL 14 years ago, a
Shabbaton was held at the Great Neck Synagogue in which
synagogue members sat together with clients from OHEL Bais
Ezra’s residential homes. Since then, Saker said, the Great Neck
community has become a “second home” for many OHEL clients,
who have been invited to many smachot as well as twice-yearly
Rabbi Moskowitz has been instrumental in inspiring many high
school students to volunteer, Saker added.
“These volunteers provide such vital services — they have helped
to put up Sukkahs, make Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, raised money,
and bought and distributed Chanukah gifts to Ohel Bais Ezra
clients,” Saker said. “The excitement Rabbi Moskowitz has given
these kids in regard to chesed is unsurpassed. He has planted in
the minds of so many young kids the seeds of sensitivity,
engagement and appreciation.”
THIS WEEK IN THE EARLY LEARNING CENTER
This week, the ELC was hard at work preparing chulent with Rabbi Steve Moskowitz to
benefit Tomchei Shabbos of Queens as part of the ELC middah of the month. This was
a wonderful handson lesson about the importance of helping those who are in need. We
extend a tremendous thank you to Rabbi Moskowitz for teaching the students the art of
Cholent making and the importance of chesed!
Rabbi Steve Moskowitz is in his 27th year of teaching in Jewish Day Schools (North Shore Hebrew Academy, HAFTR and SAR). He has taught middle school through high school focusing on skills development and independent learning in Tanach and Talmud. During his work as head of programming in high school and Youth Directing (Great Neck Synagogue, Anshei Sholom of West Hempstead) Rabbi Moskowitz has developed extensive programming in community service. It is here where the ideas elaborated upon in the submission came from and to fruition. Additionally, Rabbi Moskowitz has been a Day camp Director for as long as he has been a teacher. He has long been associated with and has worked to benefit charitable organizations such as Ohel, beis Ezra and Tomchei shabbos.