Original article written by Susie Davidson and published in the Jewish Advocate on 2/18/11. Reprinted with permission. For more from The Jewish Advocate, subscribe at www.thejewishadvocate.com
Rachel Bodony organized a multi-course dinner for 270, raised $13,500 and helped make history Saturday night.
Not bad for a high school junior.
Bodony chaired a dinner for Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, held at Temple Isaiah in Lexington. It marked the 25th year that the synagogue’s high school youth group, LEFTY, has sponsored the fundraiser. And she had plenty of help, including 70 teen volunteers.
Mazon (food in Hebrew) is a national nonprofit that provides more than $4 million a year in hunger relief. It was founded in 1985 by writer and educator Leonard Fein, whose syndicated column appears in the Advocate.
Its premise was simple: What if groups donated the equivalent of 3 percent of the cost of their celebrations to help feed the hungry?
One of the first groups to sign on was the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY), of which LEFTY is a member.
“The Mazon dinner is the longest-running continuous event in Mazon history,” said Mazon trustee David Napell, who usually speaks at the Isaiah dinner but was unable this year because of the weather.
“Aside from the money raised, it is one of the finest consciousness- raising events I have ever seen, with parents and synagogue both teaching through doing, to build children’s character and understanding of social justice.”
LEFTY, whose members are teens in grades 9-12, serves as a social group and a vehicle for promoting Jewish values and traditions. Isaiah’s group is one of NFTY’s largest and most active. Its other annual events include a High Holiday food drive, Mitzvah Day and the Walk for Hunger.
“NFTY has been a valued member of Mazon, and LEFTY has been remarkable,” said Fein, who attended the Lexington dinner.
Indeed, LEFTY’s page on Isaiah’s site boasts that the chapter has contributed more to Mazon than has any other synagogue in North America.
“These kids put on a terrific evening,” Fein said from his home in Boston. “Mazon now allocates something north of $4 million a year, and the way you reach that is not with four $1 million gifts – you raise it with many $100 gifts, and a $10,000 or $20,000 gift from a bunch of kids who are learning about tikkun olam and what people can accomplish. I think it’s thrilling.”
The dinner was prepared, served and entirely organized by LEFTY members. Members of the congregation – such as the musicians of The Titanics and a lighting designer – also pitched in this year.
“One anonymous couple donated all the food for the first 10 years, and now another has stepped up to do the same,” Bodony said from her home in Lexington.
Other contributions included flowers from Whole Foods in Woburn, additional food from Wilson Farms and bread by Iggy’s. Aside from the decorations, which the temple paid for, “everything is donated so that we can give all the money we get to Mazon,” she said.
LEFTY teens sign up for food prep, room setup and wait staff shifts, and help run the kitchen. Bodony said that meetings, which began last summer, increased to three times a week during the final two weeks. She works with Emily Messinger, director of Tichon Isaiah and Youth Programs, and LEFTY president Sarah Fishman, among others.
Bodony kept track of all the RSVPs at her home in Lexington. She also arranged seating, coordinated table settings, created the color scheme (“lavender and white, with hints of green”), met with Whole Foods about the flowers and delegated duties for the big night, she said. “It is team-led,” Bodony said, “and is really very professional, and executed very well.”
At the dinner, she spoke, as did Fein and Isaiah Rabbi Howard Jaffe.
“They have demonstrated to us how we can have a win-win-win experience like this every year,” Jaffe said of the LEFTY volunteers. “We all get to enjoy a wonderful, upbeat, social evening with excellent food, music, and dancing; our teens get the opportunity to produce an event like this; and all of us do so raising thousands and thousands of dollars, along with much-needed raising of consciousness.”
What motivated Bodony to get so involved? “It’s one concrete thing that I could plan, and would happen, and would be mine,” she said.
Bodony, who celebrated her bat mizvah at Isaiah, spent a semester in Israel as part of NFTY’s International Exchange. “In Israel, we did a lot of community service, and I cooked and served in a soup kitchen in Jerusalem,” she said.
One other veteran volunteer can’t go without mention: the chef. Temple member Bruce Lynn has created the menus and cooked since the beginning.
This year’s dinner had a southwestern theme: salad with lime and avocado; black beans, tomato, red onions, cheddar cheese, red pepper, roasted corn, cilantro and cumin lime vinaigrette with sour cream and tortilla crunch; appetizer/nosh of smoked and steamed salmon roulettes; braised chicken with beets and Moroccan spices; and a vegetarian dish of couscous with squash, turnips, zucchini, chickpeas, onions, Moroccan spices and vegetarian broth. Dessert was a chocolate truffle, butter cookies, and lemon-buttermilk panna cotta with berries.