Nourishing the Soul and the Community: Suzanne Schecter and Susan Fishman
Susan Fishman was baking a molten chocolate espresso-chip souffle during Sukkot. As she whipped her egg whites, she silently reviewed a to-do list in her mind’s eye: confirm dinner plans, call her parents, and think about all the upcoming projects for the Membership Steering Committee (MSC).
New Member Orientation Programs, Shabbat dinners, and smaller gatherings. Shabbat morning aliyot, intergenerational oral history, and a cultural series for older congregants. Outreach to non-members and to those who have left our community. Articles in the Kol Hadash and new uses for the website. The list goes on and on.
Luckily, the challenges of chairing the MSC at B’nai Jeshurun are not borne alone. Susan’s co-chair, Suzanne Schecter, was also cooking for the holidays, and she too was thinking about membership initiatives in the upcoming year. Both Susan and Suzanne are renowned chefs and bakers—their friends know not to turn down offers of desserts and other goodies—and they bring the methodical forethought, patience, and creativity found in a molten chocolate espresso-chip soufflé to their work as co-chairs of Membership.
Susan and Suzanne come from different backgrounds and different generations. Suzanne grew up in Manhattan; Susan grew up outside of Washington, D.C. Suzanne spent several years in banking before attending culinary school and pursuing a more fulfilling and nourishing career as a producer for food-oriented television programs. Susan is a Vice President with Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate. But fittingly for two women who know their way around a kitchen, both women became involved in BJ through cooking for the BJ/SPSA Homeless Shelter. Suzanne continues to deliver one meal a month to the guests … and no doubt they feast on gourmet goodies each time!
Neither Suzanne nor husband Todd Ruback felt particularly connected to Jewish life before they got together, but once they married, their conversations often circled back to an underlying philosophy. Living in the same neighborhood as BJ, it was easy enough to pop into a Kabbalat Shabbat service. Inspired by their experience, they officially became members in January 2007. Their first formal foray into BJ life was taking the Me’ah class, a two-year intensive adult Jewish learning program about the history of the Jewish religion and culture. Each found a connection: Todd’s love of history was satisfied, and Suzanne socialized with new friends who invited her to join the Potential Members Team and the Membership Steering Committee.
Susan began to attend Friday night services at BJ after moving to New York. She loved the services and wanted to attend more events and programs. After joining in 2005, she took Katie Mizrahi’s suggestion and checked out Tze’irim. The rest is history—after cooking for the shelter once, Susan was hooked. She easily moved into her first leadership role at BJ by organizing Tze’irim participants to cook once a month for the shelter. In 2006, Susan joined the Tze’irim Steering Committee, and in 2008 she became chair.
Those who know Susan know that she rarely does just one thing. While serving the Tze’irim community, Susan joined the Membership Steering Committee and co- chaired the Current Members Team with Sheila Bleckner. She also participated in several trips to Israel.
Asked about what she most hopes to communicate to new and current members of BJ, Suzanne insists that members get involved by volunteering and serving the community using their skills, talents, and desire to interact with others. It is the only way to meet people and feel a sense of fulfillment. She communicates the need for people to get involved at the New Member Orientation Programs this season.
Knowing that a couple of great cooks can’t be interviewed without asking for a recipe, we asked them to name a dish that represents a taste of BJ. Suzanne happily shared thoughts about her red-wine braised short ribs with celery root purée. Using beef from ethically kosher happy cows (free range and grass fed of course!), Suzanne described a combination of unique ingredients that are greater than the sum of their parts; when combined together, they create something both rich and unassuming. And, it goes without saying, incredibly delicious!
Just as they nourish their friends, their families, and our guests at the BJ/SPSA Homeless Shelter, Susan Fishman and Suzanne Schecter are nourishing the entire community through their work on the Membership Committee. Look for them at upcoming events and please stop to say hello and introduce yourself. Whether you are interested in getting involved further at BJ—in any capacity—or whether you are just looking for a good soufflé recipe, Susan and Suzanne are great resources.