Our Big Kitchen Los Angeles Brings the Jewish Community Together in Helping the Poor
Diverse groups of volunteers gather regularly at Our Big Kitchen LA (OBKLA) to prepare strictly kosher meals for the needy members of the Los Angeles Jewish community. With Israeli music playing in the background, the vegetables and meatballs dance into their respective containers as they come through the very efficient assembly line-like arrangement of people, tables, and utensils. Within an hour and a half, 240 meals are prepared, packaged, sealed, and sent off to community organizations, such as Tomchei Shabbos and Global Kindness, that distribute the meals to those in need.
OBKLA, currently housed in the Leeder’s catering facilities on La Brea Ave, was brought to Los Angeles by Yossi and Chaya Segelman in August 2020. They based OBKLA on a similar program in Sydney, Australia, pioneered by Rabbi Dr. David and Leah Slavin, that the Segelmans were involved in before their move to Los Angeles.
“There is real food insecurity in Los Angeles,” says Yossi. “People are suffering.” Since its opening, OBKLA fed over 10,000 people. The volunteers that come through OBKLA’s doors, especially school groups, find the experience eye-opening. At the end of each session, the volunteers are asked to take a box of cookies with them and “pay it forward” – give it somebody who would appreciate it and make their day. “It creates a ripple effect,” says Yossi. People start thinking about others, which is the first step in bringing about meaningful changes.
The recipients are not the only beneficiaries of this innovative project. All the volunteers feel that they benefit as well. Some come to OBKLA with their families, teaching their children by example to do chessed and contribute to the community. Other volunteers are empty nesters who would like to spend their time helping others. The volunteers, both male and female, span a range of ages, backgrounds, and religious observance. They bridge their differences and meet new friends as they work together on a common goal in an atmosphere of camaraderie and cooperation.
“The program is lovely and super-organized,” says Taaly Silberstein, first-time volunteer, who found out about OBKLA through a community chessed chat. “It appeals to so many different ages and people. I feel like I am doing something good and helpful.” Joni Chroman, a friend of Taaly’s who came with her husband and children, says, “It’s a fun activity as a family.” Her ten year old son, Drew, a student at Heschel Day School, adds, “It’s a great way to perform mitzvot and be in kehillah kedoshah.” Mrs. Chroman’s 22 year old daughter, Lindsay Schacht, also joined the family for this volunteer activity. She had previously volunteered packing food for Tomchei Shabbos, but this was her first time actually preparing the food that would go straight to the needy. She appreciated the opportunity to participate.
Shira Selick, a 6th grader at Hillel Hebrew Academy, celebrated her bas mitzvah at OBKLA. She had participated in a cooking session previously with her family, and she chose OBKLA as her chessed project for her bas mitzvah. Shira’s classmates joined her. “I love baking and cooking, and here I can connect my passions to helping people,” says Shira.
Julia Thomas, a 7th grader at Harvard-Westlake School, came to OBKLA with her grandparents, who were visiting from New York. Julia found about OBKLA through her non-Jewish school’s Jewish affinity group. She enjoyed making great food and helping the poor at the same time.
Over 1,500 people have volunteered at OBKLA since its opening. “We build connections through food,” says Yossi. “When people walk in, they don’t know each other. By the time they finish, they’re one mishpacha.” Chaya adds that the volunteers need to work closely together, developing teamwork. She says, “It’s so beautiful when families volunteer together! The example parents give their kids is a practical lesson in chessed.”
Chaya finds it inspiring to meet all the volunteers who come through OBKLA’s doors. “Volunteers walk out uplifted,” she says. Yossi adds, “I am truly humbled by the level of enthusiasm [in the Los Angeles Jewish community]. People roll up their sleeves and get to work. The work is physically hard, but it gives us a tremendous amount of energy.”
Most volunteers find OBKLA through their active Instagram account, @obklosangeles. Volunteers can sign up online at obkla.org. There is no charge to volunteer, though sponsorship opportunities are available.
As OBKLA grows, the Segelmans are planning on moving into their own facility and expanding their hours. “We are looking forward to welcoming the Los Angeles community,” says Yossi.