Here in Tinseltown it can be difficult to find people who help without expecting a moment in the limelight; a "15 minutes" of philanthropic adoration. Good deeds are supposed to be their own reward, and this new Lifecycles feature will profile those unsung senior tzadikim whose continued volunteer efforts impact numerous lives in immeasurable ways. Know someone who should be featured? Contact Associate Editor Adam Wills at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Minerva "Min" Leonard doesn't have time for breakfast. She's too busy shopping for ingredients and preparing a salad bar luncheon for 80 people at Adat Ari El Sisterhood's weekly Multi-Interest Day. Or making 10 lokshen kugels for her friend's daughter's bat mitzvah. Or baking "I can't even begin to tell you how many" batches of cranberry and chocolate-chip mandelbread to bestow on friends, neighbors and an appreciative Jewish Journal reporter.
At 90, this diminutive North Hollywood resident, who was married to her husband, Phil, for 53 years and who raised three children, is showing scant evidence of slowing down. True, she no longer makes 1,000 latkes from scratch for the synagogue preschool's Chanukah celebration. But she fries up 500 for the senior citizens group that meets at Valley Cities Jewish Community Center and another 500 to distribute as gifts.
But mostly, as Adat Ari El's unofficial chef, Leonard devotes chunks out of four weekdays to preparing the sisterhood salad bar, which she has single-handedly assembled for at least a quarter century, getting help only with chauffeuring, because she has never driven.
The lunch features pasta salad, tuna salad (Leonard's special recipe with sweet relish and grated hard-boiled eggs), green salad, Tostitos and four kinds of cakes, with chocolate and lemon poppy seed in high demand.
Leonard charges $4 per person for the lunch to cover costs. But she shops so conscientiously -- personally picking out her peppers, lettuces and tomatoes at a local farmers market and buying her other ingredients at Costco, the 99 Cents Only Store or on sale at Albertsons -- that she donates $2,000 back to the sisterhood each year.
Leonard has loved to cook since she was a little girl, helping her mother in the kitchen of a one-bathroom house in Jersey City, N.J., that she shared with 14 extended family members.
"I could clean, pluck and quarter a chicken by the time I was 11," she explained.
But Leonard's knowledge extends beyond the kitchen. She received a bachelor of science degree in psychology and education from Long Island University, and only because of a three-year bout with tuberculosis, which struck at age 21, was she deterred from entering dental school.
"I've never been sick in bed since," she said.
She's also savvy about Judaism. She presented the monthly Jewish education report at sisterhood board meetings for many years, privately published by her friends in a booklet titled, "Min's Food for Thought," and studied to become a bat Torah as an adult.
Last February, the Adat Ari El Sisterhood honored Leonard at a luncheon on her 90th birthday. Even then, she insisted on preparing 50 pounds of pickled herring and 10 kugels for the event.
"She's the most giving person you could ever find," said Marsha Fink, a friend and sisterhood past president.
At home, where she lives alone, Leonard does all her own housework and laundry. "I hate ironing," she admitted but feels fortunate that she doesn't have to heat up flatirons and mix her own starch, as her mother did. She also colors and cuts her own hair.
When she's not cooking or cleaning, preparing lunch for her monthly havurah meeting of "nine old ladies" or serving as "Jewish grandmother" to neighborhood children, Leonard listens to the radio or books on tape, currently enjoying "Tears of the Giraffe" by Alexander McCall Smith. But while she's listening, she's also twisting swatches of fabric into "yo-yo squares" to fashion into a quilt.
"Resting is not for me," Leonard said. Not even in what she calls her "wonderful old age."
Min's Noodle Kugel (Dairy)
From "California Kosher" (Wimmer Cookbooks, 1991)
8 ounces wide noodles
4 ounces butter or margarine
1 cup sour cream
1 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup golden raisins, optional
1/2 pound dried apricots, optional
1 cup cornflake crumbs
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
Cook noodles in boiling salted water until tender. Drain and add butter. Set aside. Beat together eggs, sour cream, cottage cheese, sugar and milk. Add raisins or apricots or both. Add mixture to noodles. Pour into buttered 8-by-12-inch baking dish. Mix together topping ingredients and sprinkle over kugel. Bake at 350 F. for one hour.
Makes 10-12 servings.