Five years ago, when sisters Sharon Wieder and Adeena Sussman began raising money for ovarian cancer awareness in honor of their late mother and grandmother, they never imagined they would make more than $100,000 by selling pies for Thanksgiving.
But with a spreading cadre of committed volunteers, who this year will hold bake sales in 12 cities (in the U.S., Toronto and Jerusalem), that’s just what the sisters have done — so far.
“It gives me chills when I say it out loud,” Adeena said.
The two are the daughters of the late Stephanie Sussman, who was known to many as the queen or first lady of Congregation Emek Beracha in Palo Alto, where they grew up.
A founder of the Orthodox shul that started as the Bank Minyan, named after its origins, Sussman was 62 when she died of ovarian cancer in 2006. Her mother, Ann Nadrich of Mountain View, died in 2009, also of ovarian cancer.
Stan Sussman donated a Torah in his wife Stephanie’s memory, and the family honored her by bringing cultural events to the community, but the sisters wanted to do something more personal that embodied their mother.
Stephanie Sussman had worked full time teaching English as a second language and later selling real estate, but she also was widely known for her legendary hospitality and Shabbat dinners.
Adeena remembers waking up in the morning to a freshly baked challah, a pot of chicken soup and a kugel all resting on the stove, and thinking, “When did she have time to do all of this?”
Chief rabbis and Nobel Prize winners were some of those who ate at the Sussmans’, Adeena recalled, as well as some of her mother’s students from abroad who didn’t know what it was to be a Jew, and certainly not an Orthodox one.
The sisters thought baking pies would be the perfect way to honor their mother and grandmother.
“Pies [for Thanksgiving] are something that people love, but aren’t something people necessarily want to make themselves,” Adeena said. “So the convenience and cause dovetail really nicely.” The first year, they made $15,000.
They chose the organization Sharsheret as the recipient, both because it helps Jewish women facing breast and ovarian cancer, and because Sharon was diagnosed with breast cancer when her mother was sick and Sharsheret was a resource for her. Since the pie charity started, Sharsheret has increased its programming for women with ovarian cancer.
Baking pies come naturally to the sisters; both pursued careers in food, due to their mother’s influence. Adeena is a recipe developer, author and food stylist in New York, and Sharon is a nutritionist in Teaneck, N.J. The first year, it was just the two of them in Sharon’s kitchen, baking as many pies and loaves of pumpkin bread as they could (all kosher, though not certified).
Year by year, word spread about what they were doing, and people who either knew the Sussmans or had been touched by cancer made donations to support the bakers’ raw materials or started holding bake sales on their own.
“People just really enjoy doing it,” said Adeena. The act of baking pies to raise money for this cause is “unpretentious, unassuming and effective, like our mom. It’s based on food and fills a need and is really fun to do,” she said.
Cuisinart stepped in as a sponsor and has donated large-scale mixers to the bakers. The boxes are donated as well, and each pie comes with information about Sharsheret.
Recipes are provided by the sisters along with instructions on operating sales. “Everything is as turn-key as possible,” said Adeena.
The bake sale came to Palo Alto three years ago with Rena Apt, whose business Rena’s Delicacies sells kosher cakes, doing the baking for the cause.
If all this talk about pie is making you want to place an order, here’s important information: For the Palo Alto sale, orders must be made by Nov. 16 for pies to be picked up Nov. 27. All items are parve and made in a kosher kitchen, but are not supervised. Pie varieties include pecan, chocolate pecan, pumpkin and chocolate chip cookie dough. Banana bread, corn bread and corn muffins also are for sale.
To order, visit www.sharsheret.org/pies-for-prevention/paloalto.