Shabbat Shalom!

Weekends in Israel aren’t quite the same as anywhere else in the world. For one thing, they last only approximately one day – with people ceasing working Friday afternoons and beginning once again Saturday night or Sunday morning. For another, if you were to go from house to house in Israel on Friday night, you would find almost all Jewish families doing the same thing – sharing Shabbat dinner.

Shabbat (pronounced Sheh BAHT) is Hebrew for “sabbath” and lasts roughly from sundown Friday night until sundown Saturday. On Fridays you will hear Israelis greeting each other with the word they use every day – Shalom, which means “peace,” but you’ll also hear them greeting as well as saying good-bye using a phrase unique to Fridays and Saturdays in Israel – Shabbat Shalom, meaning “peaceful Sabbath.”

One of the most important parts of Shabbat for secular as well as religious Israeli Jews is Shabbat dinner. I have been very privileged to go to this very special dinner at the home of my friend’s sister Gilid and her family almost every night for the past two months that I’ve been in Israel, and I want to share this experience with you.

As I am not Jewish, my understanding of Shabbat dinner and its meanings are very basic, but I’ll tell you what I know. Two candles are lit before dinner at the start of Shabbat and, as far as I know, remain lit until Shabbat ends the following evening.

Two Shabbat Candles lit for Shabbat in Israel

After my friend and I exchange Shabbat Shalom’s with his sister’s family, we visit for a while, then his sister sets the meal on the table, which always includes two loaves of bread representing the two days of Shabbat. A glass of wine is poured and an antique prayer book is set at the head of the table. Either my friend or his brother-in-law puts on a kippa – the circular piece of cloth you see some Jewish men wearing on their heads – and recites from memory in their native Hebrew a prayer, the same prayer which they recite at each Shabbat meal. The person who recites the prayer takes a sip of wine and then passes it around the table, so each person in order of age, oldest to youngest, can take a sip.

Antique prayer book in Hebrew

Now it’s time to eat, which is fortunate, because my friend’s sister is a brilliant cook. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get a photograph of her meals, as everyone digs in so eagerly. I did get to eat Shabbat dinner at my friend Ora’s home one night, though, where I was able to snap a shot.

Shabbat dinner in Migdal, Israel

Today is Friday and my last Shabbat in Israel for a while, unfortunately. I will miss this place dearly but know I’ll be returning soon. I hope you have a great meal tonight, wherever in the world you are. Shabbat Shalom!

2 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Shabbat Shalom, Sabina! This is a very interesting post for me, because while I live in Israel and say shabat Shalom to bus and sherut drivers on Fridays, I’m secular and therefore anything from the candles to the prayer is something that doesn’t happen in my life, though your post did remind me a bit of candle lighting that took place in my early childhood. What’s also interesting is that many secular families do have Friday dinners where all or most of the family gathers together, adults kids come to their parents’ place to have dinner, etc. It’s a family time for many people, religious practices or not. And religious families or not, it’s still many times the mother that does all the cooking, unfortunately, though I guess it’s changing. It was very interesting to peek into a more religious or traditional lifestyle in this country from the point of view of someone who didn’t grow up here.

    Hope you have a blast in your upcoming destination and that you’ll come back soon.
    Ayelet – All Colores recently posted..How to Indulge on a Tight Budget in Bariloche, ArgentinaMy Profile

  2. Sabina says:

    Shabbat Shalom, Ayelet! Thank you so much for sharing your tradition and perspective. My friend’s sister’s family is secular, as far as I can tell, but, like you say, the kids do often still come to the parents’ home for Friday dinner and, yes, their mother (my friend’s sister) does all the cooking. I think it is a wonderful tradition. I wish we had something similar in the U.S.

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