Ideas are bubbling up for the new Jacobs-Cramer Culinary Studio by J – Advice Eating

The following is part of a series about the ERJCC renovation project and the donors making it possible.

Joyce Cramer’s grandniece, Vera Jacobs, learned how to bake challah in a class she took years ago at Evelyn Rubenstein JCC. Now at 13, Vera still bakes challah and makes her own pasta from scratch.

Cramer credits her great-niece’s love of cooking to the early courses she took at J.

Vera’s brother Jack also loves to cook. When he was in fourth grade, Cramer bought him a pancake pan, and he brought plates of the savory treats to his friends.

Charlie, the other brother, wanted to learn more cooking skills while at school, so he found a part-time job in a restaurant kitchen.

Cramer would like to awaken this love of cooking and especially the love of Jewish recipes in more young people.

“Food is the center of Jewish life,” Cramer said. “Having a cooking class gives you insight and takes away the fear factor of cooking.”

Cramer and the Jacobs family are supporting a new culinary studio in the renovated J.

The J raised $49.5 million to reach his $50 million goal. The multi-million dollar effort to modernize the J also includes a new, state-of-the-art pool complex and fitness center, as well as upgrades to the building to prevent future flooding.

Cramer is thrilled that the new cooking studio will provide a wide range of cooking classes for the community and will be led by local chefs. The J’s existing boardroom will be transformed into a practical teaching kitchen, similar to that of Central Market, where people of all ages – children, teenagers, families, older adults – can come together to cook.

The room, which seats 24 people, includes industrial, professional equipment – fridge, freezer, stove, double oven, large kitchen island and dishwashing area. It also features rollable tables that can be configured differently depending on the event. It will be a parve or dairy room.

“One of my goals is to engage young Jewish kids in J, post-bar and bat mitzvah,” Cramer said. She also hopes people in their 30s and 40s who may not have learned how to prepare traditional Jewish recipes from scratch — blintze, matzo balls and tzimmis — will also benefit from the classes.

Cramer grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts. One of her most prized possessions is a Jewish cookbook put together by the local Jewish retirement home. Community members sent in their favorite family recipes to fill the book. Cramer still consults it around the Jewish holidays.

When Cramer moved to Houston from Connecticut 12 years ago, she found a welcoming home at the J. Over the years she has been an active committee member at J’s Film Festival. She also regularly attends the J’s cultural events and has made friends there.

“The J has great value as a place of bonding for the Jewish community,” she said. “Whether you’re a shul visitor or not, it’s the place for you. It is also a community center where people of all faiths can come together and engage.”

Amy Rahmani, director of arts and culture, said the J will tie the cooking studios’ programming to the Jewish holidays; for example, a hamantashen-making class for Purim. Other plans could include a celebrity chef series, after-school cooking classes, summer camp cooking classes, and talks with cookbook authors.

“We’ve heard over the years that people are really interested in culinary programs,” Rahmani said. “This type of space has been on our wish list for a long time.”

The studio could serve as a new location for J’s popular Friday Night Lights series, which brings together community members to celebrate Shabbat at local restaurants. A chef led the dinners, and participants cooked their own food together. Other programming ideas include a ladies night out in the studio and a date night.

In the fall, the J plans to hire a culinary coordinator to run the space and teach some of the kids’ classes. The studio will open at the end of February 2023.

Currently, the kick-off plan for the space is a healthy eating series that allows members to enroll in classes like smoothie-making and granola bowl-making.

Contact Joel Dinkin, 713-729-3200 to secure J’s future through his ongoing capital campaigns or endowment opportunities.

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