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Friday, October 19, 2018

Before Chanukah, North Jersey was buzzing with energy as residents anticipated this exciting holiday. Amid the excitement, shuls organized their respective Chanukah boutiques. Amid the hats, kippahs, pom poms, sequin pillows, jewelry and other staples of these events, a new vendor popped up.

Calling themselves “Cook Up a Wedding,” Ettie Zaks and Rachel Nayman have created a line of recipe booklets where all the proceeds go toward hachnasat kallah. Like many great ideas, this fundraiser started on a small scale and its success led to a full-scale undertaking. A rebbetzin in Zaks’ community had approached her about raising funds for a local kallah. Zaks agreed and they raised the necessary wedding funds. When the family needed help making another wedding that year, she approached friends and family and raised the funds again. By the third wedding in one year, “I realized I had no more friends to approach for money and I needed a new strategy to raise funds for this wedding,” she said.

Zaks had an idea to create a waterproof cookbook with only easy recipes. Friends and families all contributed their best meat meals and the cookbook was launched, appropriately named “Fast and Fleishig.” The duo was pleasantly surprised at how quickly a revenue stream of $25 per book added up. The booklets are printed on plastic cards and completely spill-proof. They display the cookbooks sitting in a vase of water to show how durable they are.

The cookbooks were so popular, Zaks and Nayman followed up with a dessert booklet (“The Cookie Cookbook”) and a salad one, too (“Simply Salads”). The booklets have been reprinted and are in their second and some even in their third editions. “The cookbooks are really a story of Hashem’s hashgacha,” said Zaks. She hadn’t feel a need to progress past the first cookbook; after all, at the time there was no longer a need. Nayman, her friend for over 10 years, encouraged her, saying, “Print it, and the need will come.” Sure enough, soon after the cookbook came out, she was approached by someone aware of a kallah, just as Nayman had predicted.

To date, Nayman and Zaks have sold almost 4,000 cookbooks, with all the profits going to tzedaka. Their following has always come through word of mouth, but this year they started attending boutiques, and this is how they came to New Jersey. Both Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck and Congregation Ohr HaTorah in Bergenfield welcomed this initiative in their pre-Chanukah boutiques. “The mitzvah of hachnasat kallah is known to have many merits,” said Ohr HaTorah sisterhood co-president Ricki Kurtz. “Ohr HaTorah was so happy to invite such an important tzedaka to our event, bringing the chance to do a mitzvah even while enjoying the shopping opportunity.” Co-president Tamar Gross added, “It’s a great way to infuse chesed into cooking for Shabbos or cooking anytime.” As one of the coordinators of the Rinat boutique, Sarah Kahn-Erlichman also enjoyed being a part of something for a greater good. “It was our pleasure to partner with them in this fundraiser, knowing all the money they raised went straight to their tzedaka,” she said. “They shared samples of cookies from the booklets and had a beautifully packaged full set available, or each cookbook was able to be purchased on its own.”

As they gear up for the next project—a cookbook full of soups—Cook Up a Wedding is hoping to find a whole new repertoire of scrumptious soup recipes, that like their other material is simple to make, with easy-to-find ingredients. Those in New Jersey who just discovered these books, as well as longtime followers, should feel free to submit their simple soup to [email protected] and maybe their recipe will make it into the next edition!

Follow their progress—and see sample recipes—on their Instagram page @CookUpAWedding.

By Jenny Gans