Shabbat Shalom
Chukat |10 Tammuz 5775
Num. 19:1-20:21 | Judah 11:1-33
This Shabbat, Rabbi Toby H. Manewith shares 
Friday Night Dinner -- Then and Now

When I was a little girl we didn't celebrate Shabbat; we had Friday night dinner. I knew it was Friday night because my grandmother would come and we would eat in the dining room instead of around the kitchen table. After my grandfather died, she got a job at a jewelry store on Main Street in Evanston. After work, she would stop at the bakery and buy a chocolate frosted cake with walnut-halves pressed into large dollops of frosting arranged around its circumference and hold it carefully in her lap on the bus ride to our house in West Rogers Park.

If she came early enough, we grandchildren would sit with her while she watched Dinah Shore. When Dinah signed off we would go into the kitchen, get out the hock- schissel and hock-messer (chopping bowl and blade) and set to work on kreplach or chopped liver. She often allowed me to do a little chopping or folding of dough, and I was always allowed a taste. Sometimes the wooden bowl would remain in the cabinet and she would make matzah balls or, more accurately, delicious free-form matzah clumps.


There were no prayers at Friday night dinner, no challah, no candles; those were saved for holidays. There was a table cloth, and often soup, and fancy dessert. There weren't sleep-overs on Friday night or, on the rare occasion they were allowed, usually for a friend's birthday, we arrived late, after Friday night dinner was over. And though our home was overflowing with friends the rest of the week, there were no guests at Firday night dinner. It was strictly a family affair.

Fast forward forty years, and three generations of my family still gather for dinner (almost) every Friday night. My son, my parents and I are the mainstays. My sister comes when she can; my nephew drops by every so often. There is always soup, but not the chicken soup of my childhood; I stopped eating meat in high school. Though it has been relocated to a condo, we still eat at the same dining room table. Instead of noshing on chopped liver while the last of the food is cooking, we eat sushi; it's my son's favorite. There is herring, just as there was in my youth, but the under seventy-five crowd turns up its collective nose.

It's not only the menu that's changed. These days when we gather on Friday night, it is specifically for Shabbat dinner. My son lights the candles, and blesses grape juice and challah as my parents beam.  I recite the parents' blessing and am allowed to kiss him more times (in public) than I might be allowed on any other occasion.

Shabbat dinner is qualitatively different than Friday night dinner. It's quieter, calmer. We linger over cups of home brewed tea and huge platters (even when there are only four of us) of fruit and cookies. There are fewer rules at Shabbat dinner: You want to make a meal of soup? OK. You'd like to show everyone the dance you just learned in between courses? Fine. And the table, like the spirit, is open. If there are friends or family in town it's understood that they'll be invited; we want to see them, but we are reluctant to give up our Shabbat dinner to do so.

When I was younger, I looked forward to chocolate cake, to playing cards with my grandma on Friday afternoon if time allowed. If something took us away from Friday night dinner, well, there would be another Friday next week. These days we all look forward to Shabbat and each is disappointed when we can't be together. It anchors us, soothes us, and gives us renewed spirit for the week ahead. Just as we think Shabbat should. 


Rabbi Toby H. Manewith knows how to juggle and bakes excellent gluten-free brownies, which have caused her to enjoy great renown in very small circles. Having spent her career as a Jewish educator in a variety of venues, including Hillel,  the Jewish camping movement, and in congregational life, she will begin her new job, as Director of Education for Emanuel Congregation any minute now. Rabbi Manewith and her rising third grade son enjoy the community at Kahal where they arrive most mornings still full from Shabbat dinner the night before.

Each Friday during 5775, we are featuring writings from you, our congregants, sharing reflections on Shabbat. We hope you will be inspired to share your reflections with the community. If you are interested in contributing to this project, please contact Stacey Zisook Robinson
This Shabbat at Beth Emet

Friday, June 26
6:30 p.m. (5:45 p.m. reception) Kabbalat Shabbat in the Sanctuary. 
Saturday, June 27
9:45 a.m.  Kahal Shabbat in the Weiner Room with Torah Reader 
Danny London and Torah Discussion Leader Rabbi Andrea London

9:30 a.m.  
 Shabbat Minyan in Room 208. Torah Discussion Leader Rabbi Andrea London.

12:00 p.m. Vegetarian Potluck Lunch in the Weiner Room
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