From the time she was able to run to her neighbors’ homes and invite them over for Shabbat dinner, Rachel Minkove had a natural knack for bringing people together.
It’s only fitting that even after her passing in late July, Minkove’s spirit — along with the shear thought of her beaming smile and relentless optimism — is continuing to achieve the very same thing.
On Jan. 24, Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim will host “Shabbat Cooking Made Easy,” the inaugural event in support of the recently established Rachel Minkove Memorial Fund. Attendees will be treated to a night of food and mingling, two elements that Minkove, who died last year at 29 from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, appreciated to the fullest.
“Having a cooking event to honor her memory, especially as the first event, just epitomizes her love of cooking and eating Shabbat meals, but also just being with family and friends and the importance that she put on that,” said longtime friend Shoshi Wolf Ponzcak, one of the event’s organizers. “She stressed putting friends and family before anything.”
In addition to family and friends, the event is open to both men and women who want to learn a few quick tricks to improve their prowess in the kitchen. Food writer Leah Koenig, author or “The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook,” and Minkove’s first cousin through marriage, will lead a variety of interactive cooking demonstrations to show off recipes that fit with both a relaxed Shabbat meal or a helter-skelter Tuesday night.
While event organizers are encouraging married individuals to attend, they wanted to create an occasion suited for the local singles crowd, which Minkove felt never had a surplus of options in Baltimore.
Having conducted around two dozen cooking demos, Koenig has witnessed firsthand how the activity has provided even strangers an “ice-breaking” moment and made them feel comfortable with one another.
“Everyone has a relationship to food whether it’s ‘I hate cooking and keep my shoes in my oven for storage’ or ‘I cook three-course meals every day and bake bread.’ Everyone can relate on one end of the spectrum or another,” Koenig said. “I think it’s a great conversation starter … which I think, for any event like this, is where you want to focus your energy just to get people talking with each other. “
Originally, organizers planned to set up personal cooking stations, but when they realized just how many people are planning to come out in support of Minkove, they instead opted to have individuals gather around and observe Koenig, similar to a cooking show you would see on television. Still, it will be interactive, as Koenig plans to invite people up to assist in the cooking, whether it’s snapping the ends of green beans or whisking salad dressing.
The cost of the event is $10, which goes to Minkove’s fund and will offset the cost of future events.
“The plan is to have an event every couple months geared toward this type of social aspect,” Wolf Ponzcak said. “The idea is to get people together whether they are married, single, a part of this community or part of a different community. The idea is just getting people together.”
When asked about Minkove’s unique ability to appeal to the masses, Suburban’s Rabbi Shmuel Silber offered a one-word Hebrew answer: chein.
“Anyone who knew Rachel, knew she had this chein, this kindness and sweetness. She was the kind of person that people wanted to be around,” Rabbi Silber said. “It’s that kind of chein that transcends so many of the barriers that push people apart. That’s what set her apart. You see the true mark of her chein in that it’s still bringing people together even when she can no longer join us.”