We recently learned about a lunch club called “We Dine Together.” It was started in Boca Raton, Florida. According to one of its two founders, Denis Estimon, the goal of the group is to create relationships, build leaders, and exercise self-confidence by accepting others and breaking social barriers of isolation.
No one at Denis Estimon’s school eats alone, and we think We Dine Together is a wonderful way to be inclusive.
You might wonder why this is so important to a 75-year-old woman who writes cookbooks and hosts television shows, but there’s more to what I love doing. I love feeding people. I love nourishing them physically and spiritually by what I bake and cook in the kitchen and by what I write.
When you look at the word, “companion,” you realize it means someone with whom you share bread. The person in the family who supports his or her family financially is known as “the breadwinner.” Food is what brings us all together in times of joy or sadness.
When I was attending school in Winthrop, Massachusetts in the 1950s, I was the smart, fat kid, who wore clothes from the local second-hand store, and hand-me-downs from numerous cousins and family friends. I admit, by the standards of those days, I wasn’t cool. I was solitary, and I loved to read and write. Lunchtime was tough for me because no one wanted to eat with me. As usual in most schools, there were the groups, and I can truthfully say, I was not one of any of the groups.
In Junior High, I tried eating at one table with my classmates, after a few tries, someone at the table asked me why I kept sitting where I wasn’t wanted. Eventually, I found a seat somewhere else, but lunch was solitary, a transient break in the day, not a time to exchange opinions or chat.
I’ve always been fond of the Yiddish word, “Neshomeh” which translates into soul, and the Yiddish phrase, “Guteh Neshomeh,” which translates into a good soul.
Neshomeh is that private part of ourselves that is filled with hope and strives to overcome injustice -- it is the person you are, and the person you hope to be. To be a Guteh Neshomeh is to be a good soul, or a person who stands up for what he or she believes to be right. Often it is someone whose good deeds are done anonymously.
When I reached high school, I was still eating alone, but something had changed. I often found myself chatting with the members of the Winthrop High School football team who worked in the lunchroom. There was a brief period of time between their putting out the food, and clearing the trays, during which they sat on the seats on the side of the lunchroom. I don’t know what the other girls thought, or how it started, but I knew there would always be someone to joke with during my lunch hour. Eventually, the entire football team, the Blue Devils, signed a pennant for me.
My social standing rose considerably, and the guys often said hello when they took their seats in study hall.
I wish I could say that I attended the senior prom, but I didn’t. I was a sophomore, and I didn’t know anyone in the senior class who would have invited me. The day after the prom, I ran into one of my friends from the football team. He handed me an enameled gold and blue W on a chain. It was the keepsake distributed to all of the girls who attended the prom. “We thought you might like to have one of these,” said the Guteh Neshomeh.