Mary Ellen Saltzman Honored Posthumously

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Charna E. Sherman a granddaughter of the late Irene Ratner Zehman, presents Marty Saltzman with the Irene Zehman Volunteer Award on behalf of of his wife, Mary Ellen, who died May 12.

by Kristen Mott

Article reprinted with permission from Cleveland Jewish News.

Many in attendance at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland women’s philanthropy’s annual Women’s Spring Luncheon May 18 were misty-eyed as they watched a tribute video in honor of Mary Ellen Saltzman.

Saltzman, who was slated to receive this year’s Irene Zehman Volunteer Award, died May 12. The short video featured several of Saltzman’s friends, relatives and fellow volunteers, all of whom spoke to her commitment to the Treasures Gift Shop at the Mandel Jewish Community Center and Siegal College and the impact she had on the local community.

Saltzman’s husband, Marty, tearfully accepted the award on her behalf.

Following the award presentation, the event, which was held at Executive Caterers at Landerhaven in Mayfield Heights and attended by more than 700 people, carried on with a talk by Jessica Fechtor.

Fechtor, a graduate of Orange High School in Pepper Pike who lives in San Francisco, experienced a ruptured brain aneurysm in 2008 when she was 28 years old. Fechtor read from the prologue of her New York Times bestselling book, “Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals that Brought Me Home,” to provide some background on her life.

After undergoing several surgeries to repair the ruptured aneurysm, Fechtor experienced some complications, including temporarily losing her sense of smell and permanently losing vision in her left eye. She recalled that when she returned to her one-bedroom apartment in Harvard Square in Massachusetts where she lived with her husband, her home didn’t quite feel the same to her.

“I remember walking through the door, at first feeling so relieved to be home, but I walked through the door and I didn’t feel home at all. It was the strangest thing,” Fechtor said.

“I got to thinking while I wrote this book, why was that? And what I came up with, there’s a chapter in the book called ‘Home is a Verb.’ It’s about home isn’t only where we live, but how. My favorite yellow spatula could be in the kitchen, but if I couldn’t pick it up and use it, if I couldn’t actually engage with my home, it didn’t matter if I was standing within the physical walls of that space, I wasn’t truly home.”

Determined to get back to her normal life and everyday routine, Fechtor soon visited her friend Megan, who suggested that Fechtor start an online food blog.

“She said, ‘You always loved to bake and cook, you want to reconnect with your home and your everyday life, you’re beginning to be strong enough to stand at the stovetop for a few minutes at a time, you love to write,’ and she said, ‘Jess, you need a project.’ ”

The very next day Fechtor started her own blog. She named it “Sweet Amandine” after her favorite almond cake. The blog, and her subsequent experiences in the kitchen, proved to play a vital role in her recovery.

“It turned out that Megan was right. Getting back into the kitchen, making things and writing about it turned out to be the engine for my recovery,” Fechtor said.

Fechtor concluded her talk by highlighting a few of the 27 kosher recipes found in her book, including one for five-fold challah bread, which she showed the audience how to make.

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