Growing up in a small Jewish community in the Northwest, Shabbat in my family was celebrated with Kiddush, an occasional family dinner and a loaf of challah if we were not too late stopping by a local bakery that knew what this braided treat was. My experience bared little resemblance to the Shabbats of my counterparts in larger Jewish centers in the States.
So, it wasn’t until I moved to Israel earlier this year that I truly understood why so many describe as being “home” on Shabbat. There’s a certain ambiance and feeling when you’re in Israel that cannot be duplicated. Whether you are in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv on a Friday, the rush and excitement throughout the city as it prepares for the holiday is palpable. From the fragrant smelling shuk on Friday morning, to the overflowing tables of challot in the many bakeries, to the bus driver wishing you a “Shabbat shalom,” that makes Shabbat un-ignorable and meaningful.
On Fridays, you don’t have to go far before someone is inquiring about your Shabbat plans. “What are you doing for Shabbat?” I’m often asked. Before responding, I’m bombarded with an invitation: “You’re coming over to our house,” they say. Striking up a conversation on the bus or in a shop, it’s not unlikely that you will be invited to random stranger’s home for a Shabbat meal.
Since moving here, I’ve experienced Shabbats at beach resorts, in Bedouin tents, in the south to the holy city of Sfat in the north around large tables in the Old City Jerusalem. Though, I’ve found myself most at home amongst the Shabbat potlucks of young Israelis.
These weekly dinners pull together 20-30 something aged friends, random guests, expats and visitors alike at tables that are cobbled together from neighbors and covered with mismatched plates and wineglasses. The meals are always a mélange of dishes that hail from different corners of the earth — an Indian chickpea dish, Israeli salad, lasagna, fresh fruit… all of these make regular appearances. As guests converse in various languages, everyone ushers in Shabbat as sunsets into the Mediterranean.
Like many things in Israel, Shabbat potlucks are often organized at the very last minute, but they never fail to have a great turnout and an eclectic mix of people with lively conversation. They have turned into a meaningful and delicious thread of my experience in my new homeland.
This recipe is a quick go-to Mediterranean delight that I often throw together for Shabbat. It’s based on a recipe by Joan Nathan, but I’ve put in my own touches.
Kibbutz Vegetable Salad
1 green bell pepper
2 red bell peppers
3-4 English cucumbers
½ cup cooked garbanzo beans
6 romaine lettuce leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground sumac or za’atar (optional, but recommended)
1) Remove the pith and seeds from the peppers and dice them along with the tomatoes, onion, garbanzo beans and cucumber. Toss together in a wooden or ceramic bowl.
2) In a separate small bowl, stir together the salt, pepper, lemon juice, and garlic. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Pour over the vegetables, mix, sprinkle with sumac or za’atar, and serve on lettuce leaves.