For the Greater Good
For the past two years I have heard the slogan “for the greater good.” For the greater good you wear a mask, you lock yourself at home, you do not visit family or friends, you do not attend religious services and you keep your children out of school. Nothing made sense.
Our Big Kitchen Los Angeles
But when I heard about Our Big Kitchen Los Angeles (OBKLA) and I did a three hour volunteer stint in their Los Angeles venue, preparing and packing 200 Kosher* (*food cooked to satisfy the requirements of Jewish law) hot meals for the needy, only then did I understand what “for the greater good” means. And you sense the social grace and it really makes you feel good.
OBKLA is about preparing kosher hot meals for the needy. But it is more than that. Once you volunteer it gives a person a sense of community. It brings people together – the very young, youth and adults – with purpose, while taking a fast course in how to work in tandem preparing and packing food to go. In three hours or so, under chef’s instruction, a group of volunteers prepared food, from scratch, and then packed it in attractive containers that were organized in boxes and off to be loaded onto the pickup van that drove to deliver it all to its designated site somewhere in Los Angeles.
And I must admit, the food we prepared was delicious.
Our Big Kitchen (OBK) was founded by Rabbi Doctor Dovid and Laya Slavin in February 2005, in Sydney, Australia. OBK idea was born out of an experience that involved a woman at the Orthodox Jewish seminar, known as Yeshiva, where the Slavins worked, who became extremely unwell and the burden of cooking for her family was taken on by the community.
The Slavins decided to establish communal cooking. To do this, they first borrowed a kitchen in which kosher food could be prepared. Thereafter, they engaged a group of volunteers to do the food shopping, cook and pack the food, load and deliver the food where it was needed.
In early 2020 Chaya and Yossi Segelman, originally from Australia, decided to emulate OKB home base and launched the OBK in Los Angeles. COVID made the Segelmans’ realize not only that it is essential to provide food for people in need but also OBKLA is an opportunity for people to get together when social mingling became more difficult but so much more important than ever.
As you walk into the workroom you sense the place’s cleanliness and order. The volunteer receives a company labeled apron, a net to cover the hair and gloves, which one changes often, and since it is still COVID era, a mask.
Instructions were clear and in no time people who were strangers at first, work together as a team, as if they have been doing such work for years.
The Menu of the Day
The meal preparation, with the best quality ingredients, utensils, and often wiping the tables clean, went along a system that creates fast and efficient results. We learned how to cut vegetables into specific sizes and fast; we also learned how to roll meatballs and dough into particular sizes for appetizing scrumptious results. The volunteers’ efficient, virtual assembly line, prepared, packaged, sealed, and sent off 200 meals to a center from where the meals were distributed as needed.
Since it opened its doors, Our Big Kitchen LA fed several thousand people, meaning, there is food insecurity in Los Angeles and people are suffering. And the demand is growing.
OBKLA attracts the young and the not so young to volunteer. Kids join their parents and from what I observed, they become totally immersed in the process, learning responsibility to help preparing the food or clean the tables thoroughly, with much discipline and a sense of community togetherness. It is beautiful when families volunteer together! All of a sudden what is a chore at home becomes fun.
School Group Experience
School groups find the experience an eye-opener and a civil service day. At the end of the 3-hour food preparation session, the volunteers are asked to take with them a box of cookies which they prepared and give it to somebody who would appreciate it and may make his or her day. It means, “Pay it forward” in order to create a ripple effect so people begin thinking about telling their OBKLA volunteer experience to others; the first step in “recruiting” others to volunteer and bring about to them the meaningful experience and results as well.
In general, the volunteers are of all ages and backgrounds who come together out of a sense of giving back to the community mixed with Chesed, which is the Hebrew word that means kindness or love between people, specifically of the devotional piety of people towards God as well as of love or mercy.
Build Connections Between People
OBKLA, at least temporarily and for three hours, acts as a bridge to build connections between people through food as well as being a meet and greet place where people may even become new friends while they work together on a common goal, in a camaraderie atmosphere and super-efficient cooperation.
When the volunteers walk in, they don’t know each other but by the time they finish the session they are linked because they need to work closely together to develop an instant teamwork so the work is finished on time while the food remains warm and then expeditiously delivered.
Since OBKLA opened its doors in Los Angeles, some 1800 people have volunteered to prepare meals from various menus.
Chaya and Yossi find it inspiring to meet a variety of volunteers each week. When they come through OBKLA’s doors, they do not know what to expect. When they walk out, they are uplifted. I was uplifted. This experience is humbling mixed with a level of enthusiasm while experiencing something so different. Yet, so resourceful and yes, tasty.
To roll up your sleeves on a Sunday and put in three hours of labor of love for the good of the community is a worthy experience to not only do it once but also repeat it.
There is no charge to volunteer and sponsorship opportunities are certainly available.
OBKLA is now operating from a rental kitchen space. As it expands, the Segelmans’ will certainly move into their own facility and expand the work hours beyond a session on Sunday.
I must admit, when I volunteered at OBKLA it was one of the best Sunday pastimes I have ever spent.
I suggest to anyone reading this story, to do the same; volunteer to help ‘Our Big Kitchen Los Angeles’ (https://www.obkla.org/) prepare food for the needy and get to meet likeminded new friends.
Visit OBKLA on Instagram: @obklosangeles