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Kosher Dinner informs wider community about Jewish culture, traditions


Marla Antonio and Karrie Brown
Marla Antonio and Karrie Brown share in interview in Karrie’s third grade classroom.

For Karrie Brown and Marla Antonia, participating in Temple Beth Shalom’s annual Kosher Dinner is part of the fabric of life in their faith community and a way to inform the wider community about who Jewish people are and what they believe.

“It’s a nice way to share our tradition,” she said.

“It’s outreach to the wider community and in-reach as a way to get to know people within our Jewish community,” said Karrie, who is in her second round of serving as chair or co-chair of the event.  Her co-chair is Dale Severance.

The dinner will be held from 11 a.m., to 6 p.m., Sunday, March 8, at Temple Beth Shalom, 30th and S. Perry Streets.

Karrie started helping with the dinner on the wait staff, but soon was singing. 

She has sung with The Mavens, who include Nancy Abel, Ron Klein and Rodney Antonio, for nearly 20 years.  They and other entertainers share Jewish culture and music while diners wait to be escorted into the dining hall.

The Mavens sing songs from the 1950s and 1960s by Jewish composers—including many Broadway musicals.  This year they will sing Carole King music. 

“Music lifts you up and makes the day better,” she said.

“Everyone does something,” Karrie said.

Marla is chair of the deli bar, which is the baked goods sale through which people pass on exiting.  It includes traditional Jewish baked goods and other baked goods.

“The dinner is a well-oiled machine,” Marla said.  “Everyone knows what to do.  It’s tiring but fun.”

She said that in California there is much more exposure to Judaism as a faith and a cultural tradition.

She recruits 10 people to serve in one of two shifts, as well as help set up the Saturday evening before.

“I’m here all day on my feet, but the time flies by,” she said.

“The deli bar is the profitable part of the Kosher Dinner, bringing in about $2,000,” she said. 

The rest of the dinner breaks even.

“We look like others in Spokane, but we celebrate and eat differently.  The Kosher Dinner is just one way to share a bit of who we are,” she said.

While she was TBS president for two years, Karrie went to a conference with other temple presidents in Seattle.  They asked her what was unique about her synagogue, and she told about the Kosher Dinner serving 2,000 people.

Being involved to the extent she is in the Jewish community was not part of Karrie’s growing years in Chicago.  She dropped out of Sunday school in the fourth grade and did not have a Bat Mitzvah.

“However, I celebrated the Jewish holidays at home and was proud to be Jewish,” she said.  “My sister usually sent me Hanukkah candles.”

Two years after she moved to Spokane in 1979, her sister did not send them, so she called Temple Beth Shalom for some.  When she picked them up, the secretary asked for her address to mail the monthly newsletter.

Karrie, who graduated from Eastern Washington University and has taught in Spokane Public Schools for 26 years, read that the temple was looking for a sixth grade Sunday school teacher. 

“I did not know much about Judaism, but I could teach,” she said.  “They hired me and gave me the curriculum.”

She and Marla met in the temple’s Sunday school.  Both also now teach at Moran Prairie Elementary School, Karrie for nine years and Marla for 10.  Karrie teaches third grade and Marla, fifth.

Marla, who moved to Spokane in 1991 from Walnut Creek, Calif., has been a teacher since 1979, teaching special education and elementary school.  She has taught 18 years in the Spokane Public Schools, at Logan as well as at Moran Prairie.  Karrie has also taught at Balboa, Willard and Finch schools.

“With the dinner, our goal is to educate the community about Jewish culture, food, entertainment and traditions,” said Karrie.

Part of the need for that education comes from the temple’s need for security, which means police are present at the dinner, as well as every Sunday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, said Marla.

As part of teaching fifth grade, she teaches U.S. history and tells about injustices that have occurred.

When the children asked recently when injustices will end, she reflected that one sign will be when the temple doesn’t need to be afraid because of bomb threats.

“Part of being Jewish is to have a strong sense of ethics, to do what is right,” Marla said, “so because there is injustice, we are to do what we can to bring justice.”

When Marla first came to Spokane, she learned of the skinheads in Hayden, Idaho.  She was not aware of such a group in California.  Remembering the efforts for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr., she knew such work was needed here.

Through teaching, she was involved with the Anne Frank exhibit Gonzaga University brought to teach students about the Holocaust.

“I couldn’t believe there was the hate and ignorance going on here,” she said.

Karrie, being from Chicago where there were always concerns and fears, found life in Spokane less fearful.

“Everyone is supposed to do their part to help the whole community,” she added.

“If I did one-tenth of the 613 commandments in the Torah, I’d be such a good person,” said Karrie, who does not cook kosher at home.

However, she can keep Jewish stories and teachings alive.  At EWU, she minored in storytelling, so she also has found niches for sharing Jewish stories—on KPBX and public access TV, and at a bookstore.

At the temple’s service for pre-schoolers and families, she tells stories from the Torah and traditional Jewish folk tales to teach children about faith and ethics.

For information, call 747-3304 or visit

Copyright © February 2015 - The Fig Tree