How I do shabbat


I do shabbat almost every Friday.

It's relaxing.

I'm not deeply religious per se, at least in the faith part, though I am deeply jewish. Most of this manifests in my reading (Jewish Currents, a leftist jewish magazine with great political and cultural analysis and critique), cultural knowledge and community (anything from Curb Your Enthusiasm to attending jewish talks online throughout the pandemic), conversations (talking to fellow members of the tribe), who I communicate with (I went to a university connected to my community, my first girlfriend later became a rabbi), the culture within my family (I grew up in a jewish community), and the community I live within (same today), as well as celebrating certain holidays (my faves: passover, purim, tu b'shvat, the 'high holy days', and of course shabbat).

Without this cultural context, I still think shabbat is pretty incredible. Each week on Friday night I know where I'll be and what I'll be doing. I'd also say it's low key. At its core it's just a meal with the set addition of wine/grape juice, candles and bread.

Here's what it means practically for me: Every week I have dinner on Friday nights with my neigbors. Usually earlier in the week we'll run into each other, or we'll be hanging out and make vague cooking plans, or we text the day of and just say what we'll make. Occasionally a friend or two will also join. Often my friends want to roast a chicken and I usually bring a big salad, and we'll have challah bread, wine and grape juice and beer, and maybe potatoes, green beans, or something else. Occasionally we make tacos because we like them. I think once we were all so tired we ordered a pizza. Incidentally, we live a mile away from one of the most famous pizza places in the country, Di Fara's Pizza.

During the pandemic this was the same group that was in my covid 'bubble' for a long time.

Okay, so we do this every week. So there's not much to figure out. Especially during the pandemic's worst days when there was nowhere to go, this was a dinner to look forward to each week and really 'made' the weekend. Shabbat is great because it's the end of the 'work week' and the beginning of the weekend. It helps demarcate time. And like all great jewish holidays, or maybe any holidays, it revolves around a meal.

Generally I'd finish whatever I'm working on around 4 or 5pm on Friday and then start cooking. Occasionally I made my own challah bread, either starting the night before or earlier in the day to let the dough rise. But most of the time I'm cooking fish perhaps, making green beans, salad, eggs, or something else. I try to figure it out earlier in the day so that I can run to one of the local markets within a few blocks of my apartment to pick up ingredients. Sometimes I just bring the stuff over to my friends and we cook together there. If I'm trying a new recipe I make a few different things in the off chance something doesn't turn out, but it's almost always been okay.

At 6 we put on polka music, and that's just a tradition for us because we listen to the local radio station WFMU and that's what they play at that time, and it feels like a connection to the 'old country' even though klezmer is more accurate. The first half hour I usually play a game with my friends' son, or I help cook, or set the table. We usually have flowers too. Occasionally I run out to the corner store to get sorbet or wine. There's a particular cheap but good wine we usually get, and I've stocked up enough of it that I don't usually need to pick it up. I'm slightly embarassed to admit it's a canned oregon wine we like. But it's the perfect amount for our small group.

Okay, so we've assembled, we're hanging out. After a while, maybe the food is finally all ready, we sit down. Candles, bread and wine are traditional. Blessings can be optional, obviously, but we do them. It takes a minute and contributes to the ritual. We start by turning the lights down, sing the blessing and light the candles. Then we bless and drink the wine and grape juice. I'm not a big wine drinker so I just have a little bit, or have grape juice mixed with seltzer. Then we sing the blessing for the bread and pull off chunks to eat. There are a number of bakeries near us that sell good challah bread. I don't eat a lot of bread in my life, so this is a treat for me. Then we eat the meal. I don't know what we talk about but we eat and talk for an hour or two, slowly. At some point, we stop and play with the kids again, then take turns cleaning up a bit. The kids retreat and go to bed. Then most of the adults continue hanging out and we may watch a movie, or play a game or just keep talking. Somehow 5 hours have gone by and then I head back home with leftovers for the next day.

And that's how we do shabbat.

Even as more of society around us 'opens up' and there is starting to be more activities and such, and even though I'm single and pretty socially active, going out many other nights, I am still reserving Friday nights as shabbat night. It's our ritual, and a fulfilling, simple and pleasing one at that.

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