The grills were fired up and the strong smell of Scotch filled the air on a recent Sunday, as approximately 150 Jewish men spent the evening with the Etz Chaim Center for Jewish Living and Learning to “raise the steaks.” Literally.
Raise the Steaks II, held at Bruce Sholk and Beth Kaplan’s private Baltimore estate, celebrated Etz Chaim’s impact on the Baltimore Jewish community. The lavish evening affair featured a steak barbeque, live music, wine tasting, local microbrews and a Corvette car display. With corporate sponsors Quarry Wine and Spirits, Union Craft Brewing, DC Dental, Purgistics, Allstate, Northwest Savings Bank, Shimmy Braun and LA Properties, the one-night-only event was meant to bring out both current and future heavy-hitters.
“We planned the Etz Chaim Raise the Steaks event to engage the next generation of donors,” said Rabbi Yisroel Porter, director of Etz Chaim Owings Mills. “We wanted to throw a benefit that would attract a broad audience and find common ground across generations. I mean, steak, beer, wine — can’t go wrong with that recipe, right?”
With a mission to attract Jewish students from every walk of life, Etz Chaim works to cultivate Jewish learning and identity in a non-threatening atmosphere. It offers guest speakers, Shabbat dinners, Israel tours and community-based programs.
“We are a people with a mission,” said its executive director, Rabbi Nitzan Bergman. “We have a purpose, a homeland and, ultimately, a Jewish identity. I love the members of the Etz Chaim community, and I want to continue doing more good work.”
The July 13 affair kicked off with a Scotch and bourbon tasting for donors who had contributed at least $360 to the organization. Other guests arrived for the dinner that followed. Italian glassblower Gianni Toso was among those who joined the festivities.
“When I moved to Baltimore, I wanted to find a Jewish community,” said Toso. “I started going to Beth Tfiloh, and soon after, I met Rabbi Porter and Rabbi Bergman. I think the two have done a wonderful job, and I have given them artwork from my studio. I’m thrilled to be a part of this special group.”
Between the main course and dessert, a series of Etz Chaim speakers provided insights on the organization as a whole. Following opening remarks from Porter and a gift presentation for hosts Sholk and Kaplan, the microphone was handed to a number of Etz Chaim enthusiasts who discussed their relationship with the organization. Marcus Rothberg, 27, a former skydiving instructor with an engineering degree, emphasized how his relationship with Etz Chaim led him to a life-altering decision.
“Etz Chaim means the tree of life,” he said. “I am looking at the roots of this organization right now. I always dreamed of going to Israel. Etz Chaim provided me with the golden ticket to go. I have now decided to make aliyah and become a tour guide in Israel. Etz Chaim has changed the entire course of my life.”
After Rothberg’s testimonial, several tables of men broke out in song and dance. As the dessert buffet opened, raffle winners claimed prizes including a Baltimore tour for two on a private plane, a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from Covenant Winery, two tickets to an Orioles game, a 15-year old bottle of Tomatin Scotch, two round-trip tickets to Atlantic City or New York, free dry cleaning and one airplane ticket to anywhere in the United States.
“The Raise the Steaks event, like last year, came out great,” proclaimed Porter. “Events like these showcase the past, present and future of our organization. Everyone had a wonderful time, and I believe Etz Chaim is growing stronger and stronger every day.”
Allie Freedman is a local freelance writer.