"Yes, it’s all true, and this is what makes yeshivah cooks heroes. But Zev is the leader of them all”
Zev* (as close as I can get to his real name without using his real name) is the cook in one of the major American yeshivos. This isn’t the same cook your father or brothers or husband had way back in the 1900s.
Oh, no. This is a new world. No longer do bochurim endure chicken with feathers and paprika five nights a week, lunches of cheese kugel and brown tuna fish. No, ma’am, 2021’s boys eat in style — at least in Zev’s yeshivah.
Zev’s only mandate from the higher ups is to cook foods that the boys will enjoy eating. His suppers include sesame chicken, pepper steak, hot poppers, teriyaki beef, deli roll, fried baby chicken with waffles (I promise) and yes, the occasional chicken, but with outrageously delicious side dishes.
There was an issue a while back of boys not eating breakfast, and they were hungry during first seder. It got back to Zev, with grumbles and a slight tainah. No worries; Zev to the rescue! Now, every morning there are trays of freshly baked muffins and cookies on a side table during breakfast, so even if a boy isn’t up for toast and eggs or cereal, he can have a muffin (or three) with his coffee.
As for lunch, if the day’s menu isn’t to your son’s liking, there’s fresh bread with spreads, vegetables, and a soup — daily — in addition to the mains and sides.
Zev’s Shabbos food is me’ein Olam Haba. He works to make the food as un-commercial and heimish as possible, no small feat when cooking for hundreds. And here’s an interesting tidbit: When one of the rebbeim makes a simchah over a Shabbos, Zev caters it. To that end, he’ll provide five-star catering and be on call all Shabbos (after making a quick Kiddush/hamotzi for his own wife and kids in a small side room off the kitchen). No need to bend over backward thanking him; he’s just doing his job, right?
These are the things I know about Zev, our hero. He’s an unassuming, self-effacing, humble man who does his work graciously and dedicatedly.
I share my musings with my husband, and he laughs. “That’s why you think he’s a hero?” he asks incredulously. “You don’t know Zev! Yes, it’s all true, and this is what makes yeshivah cooks heroes. But Zev is the leader of them all.”
Zev, it turns out, is also a paramedic, with a phone exclusively for the bochurim if they need him. There’s a sign taped next to the phones in the dorm with a number in case of emergencies large or small: not a rebbi’s, not a dorm counselor’s… Zev’s. And call they do. Zev — the cook — has sat with boys through asthma attacks, managed diabetic highs and lows, brought them for stitches, dressed burns at 1:00 a.m., and sat all night (even on Shabbos) with bochurim in the ER before rushing straight back to the kitchen to start that day’s meals.
Zev, the yeshivah’s cook.
The bochurim know exactly who to call when they’re stuck. They know on whose door to knock for anything they need. And I can’t help but wonder… do the parents even know this? Does the hanhalah? Knowing Zev and his humility, I suspect not.
Several years ago, Zev took a huge tray of muffins and drove over to the police department. He thanked the cops for their work and told them that this was from their “friends from the yeshivah down on Picadilly Drive*.” It wasn’t. It was from Zev, feeling it was important to forge a connection. As a super-friendly, personable guy, he started bringing baked goods every so often, schmoozing with the cops, making them aware of the yeshivah’s presence.
He saw that connection pay off when there was a major levayah in the yeshivah and all it took was one quick call from the administration, and suddenly the entire police department was there in a flash, helping “their friends down on Picadilly.”
So who is the one behind the scenes, responsible for the bochurim in this world-renowned yeshivah feeling cared for and looked after? Zev, who puts up an extra Crock-Pot of gluten-free cholent and lokshen and other delicacies every Shabbos for the few boys who can’t eat the standard food. Zev, who has a list of seven, eight bochurim with strict dietary restrictions and makes pans of special suppers for them every night.
Zev, who’s never received one mishloach manos from a parent in the decades he’s been cooking.
Zev, the unsung hero in the grungy pants and oversized work clothes.
Give him a call to thank him — your son has his number.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 759)
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