Sabbath Dinner The Israeli family is not an ordinary American family no matter how Americanized the kids feel. In most American families, with a teenager involved a Friday night is a detached night from the family. You ask just about any teenager what they do on a Friday night and they will say, “Party” or “Hang out with friends”. On the other hand the family-dinner that my parents and I went to was at our friends house and like most Israeli families they to spend Friday nights as a family; no one leaves the house until dinner is over. (Unless they go to a synagogue together and then come home to have dinner, or go to a friends house together) Dinner is a whole separate ritual, there are certain things that have to be on the table, certain things they say and sing, before the meal, and the way that it is considered a special family gathering day.
This really amazes me, because my family has never done anything like that before. The Shabbat dinner started at 5:30 PM, when we got there, they greeted us, and we chitchatted for a while, and then sat down at the table. The table had a beautiful white tablecloth on it, and antique plates at each seating spot, and really shiny silverware. Each person had one glass filled a little with grape wine, Sosnick Company. The really young children had grape juice, but my brother (the 13-yr. old) had the wine.
Thats because he, in the Jewish religion is already a man. Under each plate there was a napkin on the right side, and a book “The Shabbat Seder”, with a colorful picture of a metal wineglass, 2 hallot (Braided Bread), covered, and 2 candles lit. On the table that we were sitting at each person had a metal wineglass, and there were 2 hallot covered closer to the head of the table on the side that the male sat at. There were 2 candles closer to the other head of the table, where the woman sat. Each male had a Kipa on his head. (It was a hat big enough to cover a bald spot) I asked what that was for and the head of the family replied.
“That is so we are not being impolite to the lord” I wasnt really sure how covering ones head had anything to do with politeness but I didnt ask any more. The service started with the woman lighting the candles, and saying a prayer over them; thank you for giving us light. Then the man said a family blessing, and then he stood up and said the Mourners Kiddush. I didnt want to ask if he was mourning or not, so I just sat quietly. After which he said the prayer over the wine, and everyone took a sip.
He then continued with a prayer/song Mkadesh ha-Shabbat, basically thanking the lord for giving us everything we have now and that we are able to celebrate this day like this (with food on the table, a roof over our heads, etc.). Then we all got up and went to wash our hands. There was a cup standing by the sink, and each person did 3 pours per hand while mumbling something, and went back to the table. When we got to the table everyone was silent, and still until, everyone sat down, the father stood up and made a blessing over the bread. Then you heard the movement in the seats, as each person reached for the bread, breaking off a little piece from the braided roll of bread.
Then we started singing songs, (Because everyone was singing them,). We sang 2 songs, which sounded really fun, and up beat “Hinei Mah Tov” and “Shabbat Shalom”. After which everyone kissed each other as they said “Shabbat Shalom”. Then the lady of the house went into the kitchen and started bringing out plates of chicken soup and matzo balls. It was mysterious for me why only the father said the prayer and at the end of each prayer everyone said “amen”, so I asked.
The man of the house said that it means, “so be it,” I guess they are saying that they agree with what ever the prayer says. Then, while he was answering my question the lady of the house brought everyone a plate with soup, and we began to eat. While eating, everyone took turns saying how their day went, what they accomplished that day, and their plans for the weekend. My parents suggested we go and play volleyball on Saturday morning, and they agreed. Once we finished the chicken soup, the lady of the house collected all the bowls and brought out the second dish, which was mashed potatoes, and chicken, and there were a few salads, and bread spreads.
One was called, Hatsalimi, which are basically mashed eggplants with mayonnaise and garlic mixed together. They taste very good; my mom got the recipe from the lady, right there at the table. So the discussions were not that formal, anyone talked about anything they wanted to. I also noticed that my dad and the head of the table were talking together and my mom and the lady of the table were also talking together. The kids were eating rapidly to get excused faster, and to go do what they wanted to do.
Whether it was to go out or go play in the other room, just away from this boring adult chitchat. The second course of the meal, took a long time, even when everyone was done eating the adults just sat and continued talking. Finally when the third course came, desert, the children were called back down, (but they didnt have to come if they didnt want to). The desert consisted of 3 different kinds of cakes, a cherry one, a poppy seed one, and an angel cake with no cream on it. I asked if they had any significance, and the lady of the house said “no, the only thing is you cant have dairy products for six hours after eating meat.” In return, I asked ” what about cereal for breakfast, and a meat sandwich for lunch,” to which she replied: “you can eat meat two hours after you drink milk, so I give my children meat sandwiches for lunch daily.” “Why?” I asked, “well,” she continued, “the meat stays in your system longer than the milk, and you dont want to mix the cattle and its mothers milk together.” I wasnt really sure of how she, or the culture put those two together, but I just smiled and nodded, and kept on eating.
After we were done with the desert, we (The women) helped the lady of the house clean off the table as the men went to talk about business stuff. We cleaned off everything and put everything away, except the candles, she didnt blow them out or anything. She put them next to the sink and turned the light off in the kitchen. I asked her if the candles should get blown out, but she said, “no they symbolize the beginning of Shabbat, and if you blow them out, it would constitute the end, and we dont want that to happen”. This Shabbat ceremony symbolizes the seventh day when god rested, which is sun down to sun down (Friday-Saturday).
A Shabbat dinner evolved from a day of rest (a religious tradition) to a bonding night for the whole family (a cultural tradition). The cultural tradition is more significant for the family, because it strengthens their bond, as for the religious tradition, the people just rest and pray and dont do anything that requires work. Since the first day of creation of the Jewish people, the rich heritage endured through the years, and the tradition is still preserved.