Zach and Tamar Selch in the Beth Emet kitchen a few weeks ago while preparing the Thanksgiving dinner. Submitted photo

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Nearly every Wednesday evening, the Soup Kitchen at Beth Emet Synagogue, 1224 Dempster St., serves some 100 guests in need of a hot meal. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is always a Soup Kitchen night, and for the last five years one man – with the support of his family and a cadre of returning volunteers – “owns” the Soup Kitchen.

Zach Selch has made it his mission to cook and serve a traditional, home-cooked Thanksgiving meal for those who may not be able to have that experience elsewhere.

The menu has not varied much since Mr. Selch, his wife Tamar, and their three children (Jordon, a sophomore at Evan-ston Township High School, and Lila
and Thalia, fifth graders at Lincoln Elementary) have been involved: roast turkey, stuffing, baked sweet potatoes, green salad, rolls, pumpkin pie, milk, and apple juice.

The shopping takes place about a week before the big day, but the real work starts before 8 a.m. that morning.  Mr. Selch does most of the preparatory work and cooking himself: 14 turkey breasts, 30 pounds of sweet potatoes, and 30 pounds of stuffing.

Soon the smells of the meal waft through the synagogue’s lobby, down the hallways and into classrooms and offices. Around noon, Ms. Selch arrives, bearing 12 pumpkin pies made from scratch. By early afternoon, the volunteers (including many of Jordan’s camp and school friends) arrive to help prepare the salad, make 100 turkey sandwiches for sack lunches, and set the tables.

 “We get a lot of people asking to join for Thanksgiving, and it’s a good gig, because it’s more serving than cooking, which means we can accommodate more kids,” said Mr. Selch. “Feeding people is a mitzvah [good deed], and helping people do a mitzvah is a mitzvah. Teaching kids about doing a mitzvah is a huge thing for us. I really try to have as many kids as possible when I am supervising, but they aren’t allowed to cut or cook. Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to double the number of kids.”

Beth Emet’s Soup Kitchen also gets help from local businesses. Hewn Bakery and Beth’s Little Bake Shop regularly donate bread and pastries to the soup kitchen, and the Wednesday before Thanksgiving was no different.

In addition to a nutritious and delicious home-cooked meal, Beth Emet’s Soup Kitchen always provides its guests with live music during dinner. Linda Schneider, a pianist, provided background music for the Thanksgiving meal.

Beth Emet’s soup kitchen, begun in 2002, is completely run by volunteers. The organizational side is staffed by volunteers from Beth Emet, but the people who volunteer each week, shop and pay for groceries, cook, and serve the meal come from all over the North Shore, from both civic and religious organizations.

Volunteering makes the meaning of the holiday rings true for the Selch family.  “People are very grateful, and really appreciate the food,” said Mr. Selch.  “Many people say that one dish or another is just like their mother’s or the way they remember it from childhood, which is exactly what we are trying to achieve. “