Posted November 7, 2016
By Emily Lawi
It’s 6:30 am, cold and dark outside, I haven’t showered, I don’t have a stitch of make-up on and I’m standing in a room full of mostly men. Several of them are calling my name. The ones who aren’t looking for me, are looking for my best friend Susie. My normal reaction to so much attention before I’ve even had a full dose of coffee would be to run the other way. This morning, however, I’m running right towards the attention and shouting across the room to Susie, who’s doing the same! We’re going as fast as we can to get to each person who is calling for us. That’s because I’m carrying two carafes of hot chocolate, by far the most popular drink at the Central Synagogue Breakfast Program, and Susie’s got the coffee.
Being in charge of the hot chocolate is always my job of choice. After almost a year of participating in Central’s breakfast program fairly regularly, I’ve learned to make the hot chocolate as rich as possible. This is making me extremely popular this morning.
There are about 70 people sitting at large round tables in the lobby of Central’s community house. It’s the same building where my youngest daughter will arrive for nursery school in about two hours, and the same building where my older daughter attends Hebrew school on Monday nights. Every time I come, I’m blown away by the temple’s security and maintenance team who transform the place into a full-blown restaurant in minutes.
It also happens to be the same building where I met three of my best friends, people I genuinely love like family, who are also here this morning to help out. There are actually six of us who met when our kids were in nursery school together. Faith, who comes with me once a month, is scooping oatmeal. Ilissa is greeting people. Ilene is handing out bags of food. Josh is signing in guests and his wife Susie, like I said, is on coffee duty. Most of our kids are still together every day at the neighborhood public school and come back every Monday night for class at the LCLJ.
We’re a lively bunch and this morning is no different except that the conversation extends past us to the eclectic group of people we’re serving. There’s David from London, who came here by way of New Jersey, and Aton who used to be in the military and likes his hot chocolate so sweet that it looks like sludge. There’s Jay, who’s incredibly quiet and always wears a Yankee’s hat. And, there’s the gentleman I like to call “Mr. Hot Chocolate,” because he always asks for more refills than anyone else. Many of these guys are regulars at the program and I’ve gotten to know them a little better each time I volunteer.
We had a heated debate over whether the term “regular coffee” really refers to black coffee or coffee with milk and if where you grew up affects your thoughts on that. We talked about the World Series and I learned how one of our guests performs as a one-man-band every day in Central Park.
I can’t begin to presume that I know how these guys feel, or what they get (besides a meal and some hot chocolate) out of coming to the breakfast program. I can only tell you that I hear the words “thank you” here more than anywhere else. I’m always surprised how interested they are in chatting with me and I’ve had many fun conversations with them. This morning a man three times my size with a fairly intimidating demeanor waited patiently to get my attention just so he could hug me and say “thank you” before he left.
The truth is that even though I’m “doing a Mitzvah,” my participation in the program is completely selfish. I get to kick-off the end of my week by spending quality time with friends I love. I get to meet new people from our temple community who I would otherwise not meet, since I spend most of my time only with nursery school parents. And the smiles I get for pouring hot chocolate are enough to fuel me for another week.
Emily Lawi owns and operates a boutique PR firm in NYC that specializes in health and wellness. She and her husband have been members of Central Synagogue for eight years. She is Co-Chair of the Central Synagogue Nursery School’s Parent Association and mother to two lovely daughters.
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