Volunteer Spotlight: Mark Warnaar and Susan Bertocchi
If you’ve come to one of Emanuel Congregation’s beloved Share Shabbat dinners over the past 16 years, you’ve enjoyed the cooking of Mark Warnaar.
Mark, who is a restaurant-trained chef, and a talented team of volunteers have been cooking and serving dinner to approximately 150 hungry congregation members each month. His wife, Susan Bertocchi, manages the flow of the meal and helps with the prep work.
The couple began volunteering soon after joining the congregation with their two young sons.
“I was asked to help arrange and pass out dinner for Share Shabbat,” explains Mark. “At the time, Emanuel bought chicken and roast potatoes from Dominick’s, and people brought sides. I thought I could make this better—maybe we could increase the numbers.”
One issue was that people weren’t bringing as many side dishes as they had in the past, so Mark and Susan began asking congregation members to bring dessert for the monthly dinners instead.
“After we started cooking and people knew that after services there would be a great meal, the attendance grew,” says Susan. “Everybody loves a good meal.”
“Jewish tradition has always expressed a connection between food and wholeness, more precisely holiness,” says Rabbi Emeritus Michael Zedek. “Mark and Susan’s tireless (and delicious) work for our Share Shabbat meals means that Emanuel is a leader in the holiness ‘business.’ They are a treasure!”
Over the years, Mark, Susan, and the Share Shabbat volunteer team have served homemade pizzas, various Italian and Middle Eastern dishes, corned beef and cabbage, quiche, and more.
“We call it ‘sport cooking’ because cooking for large groups is a very physical thing to do,” says Susan.
Mark recalls one particular Share Shabbat when he decided to make a French roast chicken for a Share Shabbat using the Julia Child/Jacques Pepin recipe.
“We stuffed the skin with herbs and garlic, roasted them in our ovens. When they were just about ready for serving, I realized I had to carve 24 chickens that were still hot out of the oven,” he says. “By the end there were chicken carcasses all over the place. It was comical, but it tasted great—moist with a crispy skin.”
Susan misses the in-person gatherings. “I love when we have those few months in the summer when we can grill and eat out on the south lawn. Emanuel has such a beautiful location, and we don’t get to use it all that much. When we’re done, and everyone is just relaxing and eating on a beautiful summer evening, it’s really great.”
Although the coronavirus has put a hold on in-person Share Shabbat dinners for now, Mark and Susan found a way to bring the congregation together for a good meal. Last month, they put together “Passover in a box” for the virtual Second-Night Seder, hosted by the Men of Emanual.
“It went so well that we are planning to do it for Share Shabbat soon, if possible,” says Susan. “It would work really well, and it would be a nice way to expand Shabbat.”
If you’d like to volunteer at a future Share Shabbat, please contact Emanuel Congregation at 773-561-5173 or Susan Bertocchi at firstname.lastname@example.org.