Synagogue still serving up meals and mitzvot after 35 years

Members of Tikvat Israel get ready to serve dinner at Shepherd’s Table in Silver Spring on July 29. Photo by Samantha Cooper

It’s quiet in the kitchen as the volunteers from Tikvat Israel Congregation finish putting out trays piled high with macaroni and cheese, and chili and vegetables. They’re placing carafes of water on the table.
The doors open and people stream in, tonight’s diners at Shepherd’s Table, which distributes food and clothing to those who need them in Silver Spring.

This is how most volunteer nights at Shepherd’s Table go, Sherman Eisner explains. He’s been organizing these dinners between his congregation and Shepherd’s Table for years. This evening, Tikvat Israel’s new rabbi, Marc Israel, has joined the 14 other volunteers.

Sometimes, a volunteer’s children or grandchildren will join to help, Eisner says. But, it’s a long night and it can get tiring.

Each volunteer is assigned a task. Some, like Eisner, come early to set up the tables and slice the bread. During dinner, he carries trays to diners’ tables. Others Tikvat Israel members hand out bread and dessert, some fill cups with coffee or tea. A few wait for dirty dishes to arrive.

“It’s nice to be part of something useful,” says Ellen Eisner, Sherman Eisner’s wife.

Tikvat Israel dinner night at Shepherd’s Table is the fifth Monday of the month. Why did they take the fifth, which falls on only a few months a year?

“We’re a small congregation,” Eisner says. “This is how they’ve been doing it.” The congregation’s first volunteers didn’t think they could get enough people every month.

That was 35 years ago, before Temple Israel and Beth Tikva merged to form Tikvat Israel, explains Larry Gorban. He’s a member of Tikvat Israel and was board chair for Shepherd’s Table.

“Temple Israel was always been very concerned with social action. It seemed like a perfect fit and volunteers were needed, and this is kind of busy place,” Gorban explains as a Shepherd’s Table employee puts a dessert into the oven. “There were six clients the first night. When we first started out, we were also responsible for security.”

A lot has changed since. Two years ago, Shepherd’s Table moved to a new home in downtown Silver Spring. It can accommodate many more people than before, Gorban says, and is much nicer.

In contrast to that first night, there are 145 clients eating dinner. It’s mostly men, with a few women and a handful of children. When Eisner sees the first kid walk in, he goes to the fridge and comes back with a tall glass of milk. He smiles and hands it off.

The line never quite slows until dinner ends at 7:30. Some will be back in the morning for breakfast. Others not until dinner.

“Volunteering here always a mixture of happiness of getting to help,” Israel says, “and sadness that there are still people who need this help.”

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Twitter: @SamScoopCooper

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