Behind the Scenes With Emanu-El’s Volunteer Thanksgiving Turkey Carvers

“Just follow Norden’s instructions.”

That’s the most important turkey carving tip from the seasoned volunteer carvers at Temple Emanu-El’s Thanksgiving Dinner. The Dinner isn’t for our members, but for those less fortunate who have nowhere to go on Thanksgiving. Our members coordinated volunteers, delegated, and prepared an entire meal for 200 guests — which involved carving quite a few Thanksgiving turkeys.

For this year’s Thanksgiving Dinner alone, they were responsible for carving 22 turkeys in just a few hours. Over the last 15 years, the number is certainly in the hundreds.

With so many turkeys under their belts, these master carvers had some good tips to share. While they continued to carve, clean, and plate their turkeys, they shared some wisdom.  “Don’t cut yourself,” offered Jonathan Slaff, who has been carving for about 15 years — since the beginning.

Judith Marcus, who became an enthusiastic part of the carving team two Dinners ago, had more detailed advice: “You take the extremities off first, then take the carcass apart,” she said, as she continued to carve the turkey in front of her. “You break the bottom, take out the whole back section, then separate the breast side and slice it in half. Then you carve it like a roast. I learned that from a cooking show, and he made the worst turkey in the world but I loved the way he carved it.”

Susan Danoff was the first woman to volunteer as a carver, about 10 years ago. “The first time I showed up, only men were doing it, and somebody came over to say to me, ‘let me show you how to do this.’ I said, ‘I know how to do this. My father taught me.’”

Marcus and Danoff enjoy being able to spend time together and give back to their community simultaneously. “We’re such a family,” Danoff said. “A wonderful family. I haven’t seen Judith since last year — our picture was actually taken together while we were carving. The point is, we’re seeing each other again today. Some people we don’t see often, some we see all the time, but it’s our family. It’s a feeling of camaraderie, a feeling of doing a project together that’s very meaningful.”

“This is a blessing, to do this for people who can’t afford it and can’t do it for themselves,” Marcus said. “It makes me feel like I’ve done something really special to give back for the things I do have.”

This piece was originally published in the January/February 2020 issue of our Temple Bulletin.