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Kosher Dinner broadens awareness of Jewish life

Given that one of the ways to reach people is through food, Temple Beth Shalom’s annual Kosher Dinner reaches not only stomachs, but also touches the hearts, minds, souls and spirits of those who attend.

Ron Klein
Ron Klein coordinates entertainment for 2014 Kosher Dinner.

It offers an experience in cross-cultural awareness and understanding about what the general culture and Jewish culture have in common, and about what Christians and Jews share, said Ron Klein, coordinator of the entertainment for the 73rd annual Kosher Dinner.

The dinner will be held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday, March 9, at Temple Beth Shalom, 1322 E. 30th Ave. 

People who come, he added, also see many people in the healing professions involved in preparing, cooking and serving the meal, as well as entertaining before the meal and selling baked goods before and after.

Most temple members help with some part of the dinner.  Some do the same job every year.  Some work on the sound.  Some are ushers.  Some sell baked goods.  The person who serves meals may be a cardiologist.  The person who pours beverages may be a nurse practitioner or lawyer.

“We invite the community to temple to have food, a party and entertainment, and for a time for us to get to know each other,” Ron said.  “It’s not about making money, but we hope to break even on expenses for the food and preparation.”

Ron, who grew up in and has been involved in Jewish communities as he moved from Boston to St. Louis to Seattle to Spokane, has been active in different ways with Temple Beth Shalom’s Kosher dinners since he moved to Spokane in 1982.

After completing studies in psychology at Boston University, he earned a doctoral degree in psychology in St. Louis and then was on the faculty at the University of Washington Medical School in Seattle.  An opportunity opened to practice at Sacred Heart Medical Center.

“Spokane is a smaller community, so the Jewish community is smaller, and Temple Beth Shalom is both the spiritual home and a community center for the Jewish community here.  In Boston there was a community center with clubs, basketball and swimming, and a different building for the services and Hebrew school,” Ron said.

At Temple Beth Shalom, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews come to services and social events.  Services are part in Hebrew and part in English.

For the first 10 years, Ron worked in the kitchen where he found strong camaraderie.

Then one of the entertainers asked him to do a skit.

“I left the kitchen that year and made my way onto the stage,” said Ron, who did skits for several years until he formed a singing group with three other members.

“People enter and first sit in the sanctuary to listen to music and performers while they wait to be ushered into the hall to be served,” he said.

Entertainment groups had already included klezmer musicians—Chutzpah (nerve) and Kosher Red Hots. The Shabbos Shaynas (beautiful women of the Sabbath) sing liturgical music and prayers. 

So there was interest in singing songs by the many Jewish songwriters of popular and American cultural music, such as George Gershwin, Harold Arlen and Irving Berlin; rock ‘n roll and Broadway show songwriters like Carole King, Jerry Lieber, Frank Stoller Burt Bacharach and Hal David.  Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg wrote all the music for the “Wizard of Oz.”  Steven Schwartz wrote “Godspell” and “Wicked,” which is coming to Spokane in May. 

“These are songs known by many of the people who come to the dinner,” said Ron.  “We thought it would be a new niche that would be fun for us to do and fun for the audience to hear.”

So 14 years ago, The Mavens (connoisseurs or judges) were added to the entertainment lineup.  Sometimes their sets focus on a songwriter, and other times on a theme.

Beyond Jewish writers, one year they presented Beatles music because their pianist loves their music.  The audience sang along.

Last year, 10-year-old twins, Ellie and Lilly Huffman-Parent sang liturgical music, show tunes and camp songs a capella.

“They were a hit and will be back on stage this year,” Ron said.

“With the goal of the dinner being to help people know who we are and connect with us as members of the community, music is also a way to do that,” he said.

When two women who had been chairs for the entertainment retired, Ron jumped in as emcee and chair of the entertainment committee.  He coordinates when and for how long the seven acts perform, each rotating through the day as about 2,500 diners await their meals.

“We are pleased to reach out to people in Spokane and the Inland Northwest.  Many remember coming as children,” he said.

“Like any multicultural experience, it broadens people’s views of who people are and helps them move away from stereotypes,” Ron said.  “It opens awareness of the intertwining threads of culture as part religious and part social.” 

Ron believes that the popular annual event helps people overcome outdated, inaccurate notions about Jews from 50 to 80 years ago.

“It’s possible for people to be educated and have limited awareness of the contribution of Jews to American culture,” he said.  “So it’s important to expose the wider community to the Jewish community, so they understand, ‘Oh, you’re like me in many ways.’ 

“Many Christians tie in with Jewish literature of the Old Testament, so they have a sense of our shared history and heritage,” Ron added.  “What we do at the dinner is today.  It connects the ancient with the modern.”

Because stereotypes about Jews led to the emergence of hate-groups in this region, there are security people at the dinner.

He said the Jewish community is like a large family, there for each other in times of need and in celebrations of life passages such as births, weddings and funerals.

As a psychologist, Ron is motivated by the Hebrew idea of “tikkun olam,” a tenet that to be Jewish means having a responsibility to heal the world.

“One way to do that is to take from what prayer books say and do what we can to make the world a better place,” he said. “So many Jews are in healing professions, applying healing to real life and the needs of the community.   Many Jewish lawyers represent under-represented groups.  Many other professionals have their motivation from tikkun olam.

Beyond what he learned from studies of the discipline of psychology, Ron said that because he grew up as part of a minority community, he understands subtle issues individuals in minority groups face. 

“I did not learn sensitivity to issues minority people face from graduate school,” he said.  “I knew and lived what it means to be a minority.  The understanding is reinforced by literature on psychology.”

For information, call 747-3304 or email temple@spokanetbs.org.





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