Background: Growing up, the informant celebrated Shabbat every Friday night. The custom was very reformed. Her dad would lead a five-minute ‘service’ that consisted of prayer, drinking some wine, and the breaking of Challah. The whole family would have a meal together. It was less of a religious experience for the informant than it was an opportunity for her family to be together and connect at the end of the week.
Context: When the informant moved out of her house for college, she did not continue the folk ritual of having Shabbat on Friday nights. It wasn’t until she left home that she realized what the experience meant as a folk tradition. She explained to me:
“Shabbat was unnegotiable in my house. Even on Friday nights when I wanted to go out with my friends in high school, I first had to have dinner with my family. My dad would say the prayers from memory- literally speaking so fast in Hebrew, it was remarkable-, we would pour the wine, and have homemade challah. My mom made it fresh every week and she would often spice it up with, like, a theme of sorts. Sometimes sweet, savory, but always so good. Nothing compares. I really did not have a choice in the matter when it came to Friday night dinner, but I did not know otherwise it was something that was so routine that it never phased me to rebel against the system. And I also didn’t look at it as something ultra Jewish- like I knew my friends weren’t doing this every week, but it felt more like a family tradition rather than a religious obligation. I did not appreciate those nights until they were gone, let me tell ya. I just never realized how special that time was. My dad worked and traveled a lot and my mom had three kids to deal with plus all of the non-profit stuff she did, so that time, even if I ran out of the house to meet my boyfriend directly afterward, that time was so important to my family. It was one of the only times we all were together and there was no way to get out of it. I miss it. I never thought I would miss it, but on Friday nights, I don’t always want to be at a bar with my friends or finishing up work, I want to be with my dad blessing our food and my mom making sure the candles are burning just right. They always say you don’t know what you got till it’s gone, and I know that if I facetime my parents on a Friday night, they will be right there at the table just enjoying each other’s company. My kids will have some sort of tradition very similar to this implemented into their lives because it kept us together.”
Thoughts: The celebration of Shabbat is a religious custom that is practiced in many Jewish households across the world. What I find interesting about my informant’s story is that the ritual carries a different meaning to her because of the way that her family practiced this tradition. They did not emphasize the praying as much as they did the conversations at dinner where each family member got to share the stories of their week and laugh over Challah. The Challah is part of the folk ritual that is an emblem of love and connection. Both the wine and the Challah are foodways that facilitate the bringing together of the family and serve as reminders of the informant’s roots when she encounters them in different contexts.