Friday night dinners used to represent home and family time. Of course, that was when I had to share one bathroom; now, I have two to myself. Growing up in Queens, on Fridays the table would generally be set for a holiday (which works since Shabbat is the most important holiday) and we would light the candles, say the blessings on the wine and challah, then enjoy a meal with courses. Once a month we would go to synagogue where chubby me always looked forward to the oneg, the tea, coffee, and cookies (Italian sandwich!), after services rather than the sermon by the droning old-school rabbi. Priorities were clear!
In Israel, my father-in-law would recite the blessings at break-neck pace so that they sounded like one multi-hyphenated word, and then onto those celebratory courses again. The highlight was always my mother-in-law’s cooking; who knew that gefilte fish could be made fresh and tasty from a carp that had previously been swimming in a tank at the supermarket, and not just to emerge lifeless and tasteless from a jar? Afterwards, we would meet friends or walk on the promenade along the Mediterranean enjoying the end of a semi-relaxing day of getting all shopping and organizing done since most things are closed on Saturday. (In Israel, the weekend is Friday and Saturday.)
Now, post-family at home, it’s either frozen pizza and TV or out with friends. Both have their benefits. Not that I don’t profoundly miss those dinners of yore, but I have come to accept the evolution of Shabbat dinner. What is essential is that it is still a sanctuary created in the space between the pressures of work and the preoccupation with getting things done on the weekend. I might not observe Shabbat from sundown Friday to stars out on Saturday eve by eschewing technology, but I do appreciate the necessity of a break from the day-to-day active and re-active, to the reflective.
Last Friday I had dinner at a local restaurant with a group of friends that I met through volunteering with a political organization. This week a friend and I went to services, which included an interfaith community choir and then dinner where we spoke with some members of the choir. Next week I will have dinner and then go to the opera with my mother and younger daughter in Florida. Quite the range of ways to honor and respect the Shabbat and myself. Thinking about these Friday night dinners makes me realize that community is family. This open policy feels liberating since it acknowledges that adherence to labels limits one’s interactions. It’s the weekly version of Friendsgiving.
As a social introvert, this weekly engagement satisfies both my need to interact with grown-ups and my need to not overdo the whole being with people thing that can be so draining. Once in a while or once a week, a celebratory evening, a break-feast, and then home alone. It might not be sacred, but it feels sanctified. Setting aside time to acknowledge the present, the passage of time, the separation of the working self from the self’s self, might not follow any dictates, but it certainly does adhere to the underlining meaning and importance.