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This Chef's Always in the Process of Cooking Up Something New

November 29, 2007 By:
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Chef of the Glendale Uptown Home Shavit Moshe, with resident Audrey Beil and her husband, Elias Photo by Jordan Cassway
Shavit Moshe has a lot on his plate.

For starters, there's the Israeli native's day job. The 32-year-old -- a one-time soldier who nowadays sports an Eagles cap and a thickening beard, since he says that he doesn't have enough time to sleep, let alone to shave -- is executive chef at the Glendale Uptown Home in Northeast Philadelphia, a position he took up in July.

Already, Moshe, who oversees a kitchen staff of roughly 30, has added a number of Israeli and traditional Jewish staples to the menu, and has insisted on incorporating into his dishes as many fresh ingredients as possible.

But in his capacity at the 240-bed nursing home and rehab facility, Moshe has been doing far more than spicing up -- or sometimes, by request, spicing down -- the items on the menu.

Joanne Schwartz, administrator of the nursing home, which changed ownership and management a little more than a year ago (it was then known as the Golden Slipper Uptown Home), says Moshe's people skills instantly set him apart from other applicants with similar culinary expertise.

Jack Barrish, a Northeast Philadelphia resident whose wife of more than 60 years lives at the facility, agrees. "He's a real people person," says Barrish, while enjoying lunch with his wife, Lillian. "He has a talent that has to come from within."

At lunchtime, Moshe usually emerges from the kitchen and makes rounds at the tables, greeting residents and visiting family members with a wide smile. Hardly anyone calls him Shavit. The residents mostly refer to him as Moshe or Moishe.

He also stops in at residents' rooms, pausing for a time to chat or hear stories, while always carrying a pen and paper, taking careful notes.

"I want to hear everything, not just the good stuff. I want to hear if the food is too hot, too cold -- whatever. If we missed something, if they didn't get something," said Moshe.

In addition to these duties, he serves as Glendale's unofficial activities director. Before opening day of the football season this year, he threw an Eagles "tailgating" party, complete with hot dogs and beer. (Before the Golden Slipper organization sold the building to its new owners, alcohol had been prohibited there.)

He's also judged a Thanksgiving-dessert baking contest, staged a surprise party for a resident's 57th wedding anniversary, and already mapped out, in his head, the festivities that will mark Israel's 60th birthday in May 2008.

Moshe says that he's always felt a special connection with the elderly, especially with survivors of the Holocaust. And it's the stories of the survivors --whether they live in the facility or visit relatives there -- that seem to touch him the most.

"My grandfather was a Holocaust survivor. He lost all his family," reveals Moshe.

When he's not at work or at home, he's at Beth David Reform Congregation in Gladwyne, where he and his wife, Jaimee, teach Hebrew school and run a youth group. The two first met in 2000 at Camp Harlam in the Poconos, where Moshe spent the summer heading the kitchen staff. He moved to the United States in 2002; they married a year later.

There's still more that's been penciled into his schedule: He also privately tutors Bar and Bat Mitzvah students, and runs his own business, Comet Catering (his first name -- Shavit -- means "comet" in Hebrew).

Oh, and during whatever downtime he might have, he's studying for his U.S. citizenship exam, trying to memorize tidbits like the number of stripes on the American flag and which was the last state admitted to the union.

"A lot of Israelis -- it's their best dream to come here, to build something, to be rich," he says. "I always thought I was going to be an Israeli citizen for the rest of my life."

He notes that he and his wife want children, and that's one of the things that's spurring him on to citizenship.

"The kids need to know where they belong. If their dad is Israeli and their mom is from here, they are going to start to ask me why I am not a citizen. We -- actually, I -- decided to go for it," he says, noting that the exam is in several weeks.

Where does all this energy and motivation stem from? The answer -- simple in some ways, complex in others -- explains a lot about Moshe's view of life, not only his work habits, but also his compassion.

At 19, the native of Hod Hasharon was a member of the Givati brigade, one of the Israel Defense Force's most elite infantry units. Then, his life changed forever: Doctors discovered he had lymphoma, and he spent the next year in and out of the hospital, undergoing numerous surgeries and chemotherapy treatments.

"A lot of things started to go wrong with my body. After I was supposedly clean of the cancer, I developed an infection," he recalls. He had several serious surgeries to correct the problem.

Before one surgery, in particular, doctors told him that the procedure would probably render him infertile and suggested that, if he wanted to ever have children, he should have some sperm samples frozen. He agreed to the process.

So, while Moshe says his energy -- and many hats -- is about making the most after facing down death, it's also about making ends meet. To have kids, the couple must undergo in vitro fertilization.

"A lot of people are embarrassed to talk about this, but I'm very open about it. It's part of me, it's part of my cancer -- that I beat the cancer."

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