Around the Shabbat Table

BOOK: Around the Shabbat Table
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Around the Shabbat Table

Over 40 Holiday Recipes for the Food Lover

Jayne Cohen

Wiley Selects

This book is printed on acid-free paper.

Copyright © 2012 by Jayne Cohen. All rights reserved.

Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey.

Published simultaneously in Canada.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available upon request.

ISBN 978-1-118-39221-8 (ebk); ISBN 978-1-118-39222-5 (ebk)

Printed in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Sabbath  

Every week from eighteen minutes before sunset Friday until the first three stars appear Saturday evening

“It was the darkness and emptiness of the streets I liked most about Friday evening, as if in preparation for that day of rest and worship which the Jews greet ‘as a bride'. . . . I waited for the streets to go dark on Friday evening as other children waited for Christmas lights.”

—ALFRED KAZIN,
A Walker in the City

No wonder the Sabbath is frequently personified as a beautiful queen, princess, or bride: traditional Jewish families eagerly begin feverish preparations for its arrival as if for a royal visit.

Cooks seek out the best foods and wines in the markets, and often put aside especially choice or exotic fruits found during the week to be savored when the Sabbath comes. Most of the finest Jewish recipes derive from the Sabbath kitchen: for many poor Jews, it was the one day of the week that they would taste meat, chicken, or wine.

The freshly scrubbed house percolates with the sounds and smells of Sabbath cooking. A sniff of tsimmes, puckery-sweet with rhubarb and prunes, tantalizes the nose. And the crisp skin of lemon-roasted chicken and puffy little matzoh balls, waiting for soup, invite filching by hungry children just home from school.

For the most observant, everything must be readied before the Queen's arrival, not only the Friday evening meal but Saturday's hot lunch as well. Kindling fires and cooking are among the thirty-nine activities classified as work, and therefore are prohibited while the Sabbath is in progress. In addition to festive foods like challah, chicken soup, chopped chicken livers, and gefilte fish, Jews have created a whole set of special dishes to accommodate the special Sabbath restrictions: cholents, hamins, and dafinas—lusty one-pot meals made beforehand then left to cook overnight in the slowest ovens, savory kugels and
fritadas
(frittatas) warmed up on hot trays, and spicy fresh fish dishes from Jewish kitchens all over the globe, prepared ahead and served cold.

As night falls on Friday, the hustle and bustle cease and a hush falls over the house. The table, cleared of mail, keys, and other weekday detritus, has been transformed: now it is an elegant altar of spotless linen, gleaming silver, and china set to honor the Sabbath.

As Jews light the candles and recite the Kiddush blessing over the wine to usher in the Sabbath, the parents bless the children. The joyous family meal is especially delicious and savored leisurely.

The following day, the Queen's presence is still felt, as the family continues to move in step with her unique rhythm. Since the most ancient times (it is the only holiday mentioned in the Ten Commandments), even those whose six-day work week revolved around mindless drudgery and endless toil could look forward to an evening, then an entire day—the Sabbath—devoted to resting their bodies, renewing their spirits, and strengthening the bonds with those they loved.

The numerical value of the letters in the word
dag
(Hebrew for fish) adds up to seven, and Sabbath is the seventh day of the week. And so whoever ate
dag
on the Sabbath was thought to be safe from the judgment of
Gehenna,
the hellish afterlife for the damned.

Although prepared differently in the myriad kitchens of the Diaspora, a special fish dish usually appears at one or more meals on every Jewish Sabbath: Friday night, the hearty Saturday lunch, or the light meal at Sabbath's close. In fact, two widely divergent chopped fish recipes, gefilte fish and Middle Eastern ground fish balls like Egyptian
bellahat,
may both owe their origins to the injunction against Sabbath work, which includes
borer
(picking over bones). Removing the bones from the fish and chopping it up in advance afforded Jews from Eastern Europe and North Africa a delicious, pleasurable way to enjoy their Sabbath fish.

In Talmudic times (70 to 500 CE) a hot meal was not an everyday occurrence. To honor the Sabbath, it became a
mitzvah
(good deed), to serve hot food at the Saturday midday meal. Here we dish up robust, slow-cooked
Duck and White Bean Cholent
or a dafina combining falling-off-the-bone lamb with little boats of stuffed eggplant, accompanied by tart, crisp green salads. In warm weather, there is
desayuno
(a Sephardi-style brunch), featuring
Spinach Cheese Squares
, roasted eggs, and perhaps an Ashkenazi Sorrel-Onion Noodle Kugel.

Saturday night, when it is time to bid farewell to the Sabbath, she is escorted off in the enchanting Havdalah ceremony. Jews burn a braided candle, pour a full cup of wine, and breathe in fragrant spices, reminding them of the special Sabbath sweetness they have tasted. This sweetness will fortify them as they return to the routine world. Just until Wednesday, when they begin anticipating the beautiful Sabbath to come.

Many American Jews, even if they are not Orthodox, still find some way to mark the Sabbath as sacred and separate it from the workaday week. For some, this is the special Friday night dinner—perhaps the only time during a busy week when the family sits down together—or the quiet Saturday spent with loved ones. For others, it is the unique aura of
shalom beit
(peace in the house) that settles over the family: the commandment in Exodus 35:3 (“Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitation upon the Sabbath day”) may also refer to flaring tempers and simmering anger.

For me, as a child, it was the Kiddush, the blessing chanted before the Friday evening meal to usher in the Sabbath. Never bound by custom, my father always let me, his daughter, “make” the Kiddush—though traditionally the benediction is recited by men—because I, a passionate eight-year-old who had just begun Hebrew school lessons, was burning to take over the ceremony.

And so it became my job as much as setting the table every evening. I chanted the prayers and sipped the sweet, syrupy wine from my father's worn Kiddush cup, shined so often and so hard that no inscriptions were any longer visible. Then I'd pass the cup around so everyone could drink in the Sabbath's sweetness—mother, father, sister, brother, grandfather, usually a guest or two, and back to me. A circle that was a warm embrace and inviolate family nexus.

There were times, of course, that I absented myself, when I was a guest at a friend's, or later a boyfriend's, home. And I can still hear the note of disappointment—and chastening—in my father's voice when I told him I wouldn't be home for dinner: “Do you know it's Friday night?” he'd ask.

But next Friday, I'd be back. No Kiddush wine ever tasted so sweet as at my father's table.

In homes in which the Sabbath is not observed in the traditional way, the routine demands of contemporary life can make even simple Sabbath observance seem difficult. A Friday night dinner when your daughter regularly performs in the school plays and her older brother wants to grab a pizza and hang out with friends on weekends? Saturdays that begin with carpool for the soccer team?

But the ancient wisdom of setting aside one day of the week and noting it as special still applies today. Shabbat not only rests our bodies and renews our spirits but also nourishes our families.

Many families decide to begin celebrating Shabbat when their children are small. For others, Friday evening seems the perfect time for their grown children (and their families or significant others) to come home for dinner. And, for some, Shabbat becomes the night to break bread with their family or friends.

Here are just some of the ways to bring Shabbat traditions into nontraditional families.

•
Before the Sabbath starts, it is customary to put aside money for
tzedakah
(charity) and special tzedakah boxes—beautiful heirlooms or colorful ones made by the kids—are familiar fixtures in Jewish homes. Put money in the box every Friday, and make the decision of where to donate the money a family one. Encourage your children to contribute some of their own money to the collection, or to a different cause that is important to them.

•
If a family member is away—a child at school or camp, a parent traveling on business, grandparents who live out-of-town—this is a wonderful time to call, wish him or her a good week, and say I love you.

•
Families traditionally usher in Shabbat by lighting candles: usually two, though some light an extra candle for each child or even each member of the household. While candlelighting was a woman's job in the past, there is no reason why the father or all the family members can't take part. Kindling the flames focuses attention on the moment, announcing the commencement of the Sabbath, and the soft lights emanate a protective glow over the house. If your children arrive home later in the evening, well past candlelighting, consider giving them their own candles to light at that time.

•
Filled now with a sense of our blessings, we are aware of the gifts our children are to us. For a parent, this may be the most beautiful part of Shabbat—the time to bless your children using the traditional blessing from a prayerbook or one you create in your own words. If you incorporate just one Shabbat tradition into your life, let it be this one. If you have been arguing all week, take a break, bless and kiss your child. If your children go out on Friday night, bless them when they come home or the following day.

•
Many parents “store up” their blessings for the day their child becomes bar or bat mitzvah or marries. You'll find that weekly Shabbat blessings connect you intimately to your child, and eventually prepare a meaningful foundation for your blessings at these special milestones.

•
This is also a perfect time for all members of the family to bless each other.

•
Before dinner is served, chant the Kiddush.
L'chaim
! To life! The celebrated toast reminds us that from the beginning of Jewish time, wine has embodied both life's blessings and its blessedness. Kiddush, the prayer over wine, means “sanctification,” and the Friday night benediction, completed by the requisite drink of wine, symbolically consecrates the family and the dinner that follows. Pass the cup around the table so that everyone can share the taste of life's joys.

•
Ashkenazi and Sephardi literature abounds with descriptions of memorable Shabbat dinners, of foods imbued with the unique spice of Sabbath itself. A luscious home-cooked meal served on your best china would be fabulous, but there are simpler ways to make the dinner special: fill a vase with fragrant lilacs; offer a dessert too rich for your weekday table; splurge on red meat like
Easy Onion-Braised Brisket
or a beautiful, high-carb
Onion Challah
or other bread you try to avoid during the week. Sit down together at the same time and eat leisurely. If you have young children, read a story or sing family songs to encourage them to stay at the table.

•
If at all possible, try to have your kids bring their friends home rather than go out, or arrange to serve dinner early, before they leave for the evening. If they do miss dinner, consider deferring Shabbat dessert—or just plain milk and cookies—until they return home. And bless them then.

•
“When I marched in Selma,” the eminent theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “my feet were praying;” some families regularly pray with their hands on Shabbat instead of attending worship services. At the Village Temple in New York City, every Saturday while services are taking place downstairs in the sanctuary, volunteers—young children to ninetysomethings—work in the soup kitchen upstairs preparing a hearty lunch for homeless guests. If your family prefers to pray with their hands on Friday night or Saturday, and local synagogues do not have a similar program (in Orthodox and most Conservative congregations, traditionally such work would not be permitted in the synagogue on the Sabbath), consider other opportunities in your area for which you might regularly volunteer, like Friday night or Saturday morning read-alouds in the children's or geriatric section of your hospital.

•
Shabbat has always been a time for visiting extended family and close friends, a time to strengthen bonds with those we love. Gathering around the table—whether for a special meal like Shabbat lunch or just pie and ice cream on September afternoons on the screened porch—invites conversation. And without baseball blaring from the TV, Grandpa may share a family memory; leaving video games or the laptop at home will encourage children to actively participate with stories of their own.

•
Or revive a long-lost family tradition: the Cousins Club. When all their parents had passed away, my mother's cousins realized that with the older generation gone, it was up to them to stay in touch with each other. They decided to get together once a month for a potluck Shabbat dinner. The vibrant meal they share reflects the rich tapestry of cultures the family now comprises.

•
And for many families, spending time together outdoors on Shabbat brings a heightened sense of our place in the universe. Visiting a botanical garden or nearby hiking trail as the seasons unfold, taking a leisurely family walk every Saturday afternoon, watching the sun set or the constellations appear in the Friday night sky—all connect us to the rhythms of the natural world and to one another.

BOOK: Around the Shabbat Table
12.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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