Tag Archives: Shabbat

Mud Hugs

Main Piece:

What’s the story behind the tradition?

“I don’t know if this story is true, but every summer the oldest age group went on their long camping trip, overnight-thing. Then they would come back to camp, and for some reason, one year, the age group ended up …like… in an orange grove or some back area that was dusty, and then somehow water was involved and they accidentally got covered in mud, and then they ran into camp and started hugging everyone.”

What does the tradition look like now?

“It became a tradition, and now it’s very… everyone does it and gets completely covered in mud. There’s a dance, you make a dance and a chant, and you perform and then you go run and hug everyone and then you go shower. Once everyone is all nice and clean, we all put on while clothes and celebrate Shabbat [the Jewish Sabbath].”


My informant is my twin sister. She is Jewish, attended Los Angeles public school, and is currently a USC student. She went to a Jewish summer camp for multiple years. This information was collected during a family zoom call where we were checking in with each other. Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, is celebrated from Friday night to Saturday night every week.


I’m familiar with this tradition because I have participated in it, both as the person hugging and as the person receiving hugs. It’s the culmination of a week-long camping trip without showers, so getting covered in mud is a symbol of how dirty the participants feel. The layers of mud are so thick that the participants almost don’t look human. The dance and the chant give the participants a chance to celebrate themselves after a hard week. The hugs are a lot of fun because you get to cover a group of completely clean people in mud. After getting clean, all of the participants wear white to juxtapose how dirty they used to be. My mother attended this same summer camp in the 70s and she never observed this tradition. This means we can establish a terminus post quem and claim that this legend and tradition originated after the 70s.

Main Piece: Shabbat

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. 

Shabbat Dinner

The following is a Jewish tradition.  The informant is represented by an S and I am represented by a K.


K: Okay, so can you tell me about some of your Jewish traditions.

S: Okay, so we have Shabbat, which is a celebration, every Friday night… uhh… basically you have Shabbat service, like uh, you say prayers, and uh, light candles, and uh… I wouldn’t quote myself on that ’cause I’m not positive, but I think you do light candles every Shabbat, and then uhm, it’s a tradition to have wine on Shabbat nights… Uh, some people who are… more orthodox or conservative, do like no cell phones on Shabbat, and like Shabbat is very serious for… those type of people. And uhh, what else do we have?

K: What’s the significance of this religious tradition for you?

S: Uhhh… Shabbat, uhm, it means a lot to me.  It’s a time where I get to come together with my family, who I love very much, and I don’t get to see often, so when I celebrate Shabbat, it’s a way of, you know, getting in touch with religion and celebrating my culture… and yea.  It’s just a great way to get together with people in the Jewish community.

K: And what’s like the setting of it.

S: The setting? Like where is it?

K: Yeah.

S: Oh yeah! So usually you have it at someone’s house.. uh.. they’ll just have a nice dinner prepared… common dinner would be like matzo ball soup and latkes… I don’t know if that’s important or not, but… and it’s at someone’s house usually, and it could be anywhere from like 10 to like 50 people.


The informant was sitting at her desk, working on some homework for a music class, and I walked into the room and asked about her Jewish traditions.  She was sitting in a chair, and I sat down on my bed.  There was a group of our friends in the living room talking and hanging out.

My Thoughts:

I think this is a really cool Jewish tradition.  I grew up in a Catholic household, so for me, this kind of reminds me of Sunday mass with little tables of food located in the chapel or outside the church for after mass.  I think it’s cool this is a dinner, though, and it’s hosted at a household with so many people.  It’s definitely a way for people to get together every week and celebrate their shared religion/culture.

Shabbat Khayal

The informant is an Israeli American who grew up practicing traditions from both her Israeli and Persian culture. She describes a custom surrounding the sending off and return of teenagers who are drafted as soldiers. The informant recalls one of these parties that she attended when she was young.

  • Shabbat Khayal is an Israeli tradition having to do with young soldiers. There is a kind of sending off that people do, when they first are um drafted. And so people have you know: goodbye parties, they’ll have um celebrations and then everybody holds their breath until soldiers get through their training which is like an intensive three months that they don’t really see family and its you know really crazy and they don’t really see their families and then there is a homecoming and thats a really big deal. The moms will buy all their favorite food and snacks and cook all their favorite meals and get their rooms ready and its like a whole you know and theres an excitement and build up when the family comes over and everybody wants to hear stories and see how that teenager has changed… so um theres that kind of anticipation and you know people know who’s son is coming home and this home’s daughter is coming home and there is a lot of support in the community around it. And once they’re placed within the army, and they kind of know what they are going to be doing for the next two or three years, then they get weekends off here and there, and those weekends are a really big deal. You know, same thing happens- you know family gets together, everybody comes for shabbat, the soldiers are like center of attention. Again everything with the food, they do their laundry, they make sure that they’re resting, that they’re seeing their friends, its like a whole big thing when a soldier is home. And i think thats in the fabric of pretty much every Israeli family.
  • Sometimes people will take them to see a rabbi or someone for a blessing before they send them back out- depending on their background and culture you know if they’re Persian, Ashkenazi Jews, but some people will take them to someone and ask them to kind of say you know thank God, you made it through this far and then before we turn around and send him back you know give a blessing to make sure that he/she is safe and that God watches over them and that they come back to the family. So a lot of people will set something up like that or take them to Jerusalem or something kind of sentimental like that. 
  • I was apart of one of these rituals when I was a little younger for my cousin- it was such a build up, I mean you don’t really hear from them or have contact with them. I mean I can’t even think about what to compare it to here in America, I mean there is not really much- you’re sending a teenager away, and its a high schooler and they’ve just graduated and all of a sudden they are thrown into this entirely different setting, so I just remember my aunt getting everything ready and going to every different market and getting all his favorites and getting them all together and making sure it was all there. And then him coming home and looking so grown up and different and everybody wanting to hear all his stories and how is was, and what does he think he wants to do in the army, and how did he test, and he becomes that kind of center of attention and it will last all weekend, and people will spend the night, and want to be with them and yeah its very special. 


I think that a traditions such at Shabbat Khayal are really important for families who have loved ones at war or in training. I think the whole celebration an already special occasion that much more intimate and important for both the family and the teenager. Most importantly, I believe that people continue to have these celebrations not only because it is tradition, but because it gives the family and the teenager something to think about and look forward too, instead of the family anxiously waiting around for the teenager to return they have the opportunity to run around preparing and gathering friends and family, focusing on what is most important in life.



Shabbat Dinner

The informant describes themselves, “I’m a queer cis-gendered female, I’m part Mexican-American, part Persian-Israeli. I’m a student at USC. I’m Jewish. I’m about to hopefully be an EMT, if all works out.” Also – “I’m a really big cat lady.”



Tell me about Shabbat dinner. How do you Shabbat?

So – growing up, I like kind of experienced Shabbat a handful of times when my dad was aroud. But it was never really – it never took off as a big thing after he left. Then when I got to USC, and I got involved with the Jewish community here – Shabbat became more of a tradition in my life. And even though I’m not the most religious person, I consider myself a lot more spiritually Jewish than practicing and ‘following the rules’-type Jewish – so I don’t exactly partake in the ritualistic hand washing or..

Did your family do that? What was your typical family Shabbat like vs your USC Shabbat? And was it just with your family, or did you do ever do Shabbat with a community?

Ok, the two times I did it with my mom and dad, um, there was – it was like a small – it was just the three of us. A small dinner. We did our blessings, and the handwashing, and the hamotzi, and the wine. Um. And when I got here, I learned a bit more about – it was my first community Shabbat – and I felt – it felt good to learn a little bit more in depth about what Shabbat meant. And that hey, I wasn’t alone in not partaking in certain things, like people my age also kind of just want to eat a little bit before meal, or not do the hand washing, or talk in between washing your hands and doing the other blessings.

What does Shabbat mean to you?

I feel really Jewish right now. “What it means to me!” Seriously, Shabbat means to me- taking a break from your responsibilities and really looking at yourself, and going “Hey, slow down. Life is more than crazy assignments and exams, take some time for yourself. Nourish yourself, eat some food. Relax.’ It kinda brings you back down to earth for a little bit.

What do you find most meaningful from the Shabbat dinner?

The people – being around people. It would mean nothing to me without having friends to talk to, and – I don’t know, talking to people about their crazy week and relating back to things and knowing that you’re not alone.

So what does a typical USC Shabbat dinner look like?

Pretty fun at Hillel. There’s lots of food, and good company, and lots of wine. And it’s a good experience. It’s actually probably something I’m really gonna miss – being around other people and taking time to wind down and eat good food. I really underestimated how much Shabbat actually meant these last four years. It’s actually like “Shit, I’m gonna miss it.” I’ll make an effort to continue doing it, but it’s just –the people here at Hillel. Pretty great.

When did you start wanting to participate in Shabbat dinners? Because you said it was never really a thing you had enjoyed much before, although you knew about it and had done it – so when it happened at USC, it wasn’t like “Oh my! This is a whole new experience! I wanna – yay!”

Yeah – I think that a lot of it comes from me wanting to explore – ok. Here’s how everything came to be. My dad was the Jewish one, my mom met him and converted- but apparently that wasn’t enough, because his mom was one of those stereotypical Iranian crazy Jewish moms who was like “She isn’t one of us, she isn’t really Jewish, it’s either her or me,” and he chose his mom so he left. And so my mom remained spiritually Jewish- she tried the hardest she could to keep us both involved in Jewish life. We actually joined a temple in my hometown for a while when I was in the 4th grade. And that lasted one or two years – but also from the temple we kinda got the same thing, like “Oh, you’re just some Mexican lady, you’re not actually Jewish. And so we left there too. And then from there on out it was kinda like “Alright, we can have our own beliefs, and we’ll keep our Judaism in our home. And yeah, we might not have Shabbat dinner every week, but we still have our faith.” It was kind of just like – we’re not practicing but we’re silently faithful. And then I got here, and I don’t know, even in the very beginning of the year when they had the involvement fair, and all these – or before I got accepted when they had all of the “Explore USC! And look at all of our cool things we have!” There was like oh, Jewish life on campus, and it was kind of like “Oh, I can explore this part of my identity and not be judged for it. And look at maybe possibly” – at the time it was kind of a ‘who knows’ kind of thing, where can this lead? And it led to some good places. So I guess me getting involved in Shabbat dinners was the positive part of me finding my identity as a self-identified Jew.



Did not go over basic Shabbat practice and the meaning of the individual referenced components (the hamotzi, the wine, etc.), but got to speak of Shabbat as a whole and comparative variant practices.