Togetherness through chopping

Togetherness through chopping

Teaneck shul finds cooking competition is the perfect recipe

Naomi Nachman, right, stands with a team at Bnai Yeshurun.
Naomi Nachman, right, stands with a team at Bnai Yeshurun.

Food brings people together.

From birthday celebrations to weddings, barbecues to small dinner parties, where there is food, there is unity. Even holidays focus on food. We eat apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah, turkey on Thanksgiving, and matzah on Passover. Families that do not always see each other often are brought closer together by the memories shared over a table overflowing with a variety of delicacies.

Food brings comfort in times of sickness or grief and greater joy to times of happiness.

Kosher food once was challenging to find but that was then. Now, there are entire sections in supermarkets dedicated to kosher food, let alone entire supermarkets that are strictly kosher and restaurants specializing in all kinds of cuisine that are under rabbinical supervision. You like Indian food? No problem! Pizza? Of course! And there are bagels everywhere.

But when you turn on the Food Channel, you can watch hours and hours of culinary entertainment with nary a mention of kashrut.

That is where Naomi Nachman and “kosher chopped” come in.

“Chopped” is a show on the Food Network where contestants are presented with a box filled with random ingredients and are required to make a meal using all of them. This can prove to be quite a challenge — the box’s contents can range from sugared cereal to hot pepper flakes. The contestants never know what they will find in the box.

Born in Australia and now living in Long Island, Naomi Nachman is known as the “Aussie Gourmet.” She has written several cookbooks, but her latest endeavor is bringing kosher chopped competitions to synagogues and schools all over the area. Because they function as a team-building exercise, Ms. Nachman has brought kosher chopped to corporations as well.

Recently, Ms. Nachman hosted a sisterhood event at Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck. In preparation, participants were able to form teams — there were four of them — and a crowd of close to 100 came to watch. “In a time where so many people are on different sides of the fence politically and religiously, even within their own synagogues, it is nice to have everyone come together over a good meal and laughs,” Ari Wartelsky, said. “That is what events like this promote.

“Food brings everyone together. Whether you were cooking or eating, it is a universal language. Everyone really had a great time.”

Steven Margulies, Bnai Yeshurun’s president, was thrilled with the turnout and the competition. “This was a great way for members to come together,” he said. “In all of my years being involved in the shul, this was definitely the most unique event I have been witness to, and the cooking really brought it to a whole new level.”

Mr. Margulies pointed out the age range he saw at the contest. “All generations were out in full force,” he said. “New members, older members, seeing parents and their grown children together — it really made the evening incredible.”

“There was great enthusiasm, a robust feeling of competition, and a wonderful sense of community,” Bnai Yeshurun’s rabbi, Steven Pruzansky, said.

Three judges were appointed: Ruthy Bodner, a self-proclaimed foodie and the wife of a well-established caterer; Bnai Yeshurun’s assistant rabbi, Ari Zahtz, and businessman/philanthropist Henry Orlinsky. The teams were judged not only on how the ingredients were used and how tasty the final product was, but on how that finished dish was presented. Each team had to use every one of the ingredients in its box.

Yali Elkin was on the winning team. “We didn’t feel any pressure to win,” she said. “It was just a lot of fun. Our team really came together like a well-oiled machine.” The group’s winning dish used falafel-flavored super snacks as a crust for the grilled chicken.

“Naomi Nachman has taken a great idea and turned it into something even greater,” according to Ari Ganchrow, Bnai Yeshurun’s gabbai. “In a big synagogue like ours, it is easy to be apathetic and uninvolved. But using cooking and food as a means to have people work together, meet each other, and get along promotes the greater good. Members who normally wouldn’t meet each other because of age or involvement all showed up and spent time together.

“It was really wonderful to see it and be a part of it.”

Learn more about Naomi Nachman on her website,

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