Imagine the scene. It’s Friday night in Palm Desert, California, and you’ve got nothing to do, so why not head down to Wendy’s, the fast-food chain with 6,500-plus locations (none of them kosher)?
At least that’s what this group of Jewish senior citizens thought. At Wendy’s, these seniors enjoy a weekly Shabbat dinner where they recite the Hebrew prayers for the candles and challah and bask in a rare feeling of community.
Until recently, they had the oldest practicing rabbi in the United States enjoying this fast-food Shabbat, sanctioning the rather unorthodox celebration. At 97, Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin was still relishing the ritual of Shabbat and encouraging others to do so. Zeldin died of natural causes in January but his legacy — a community of bubbes and zaydes with a weekly yen for fast food and Judaism — lives on.
In Rachel Myers’ delightful documentary, “Wendy’s Shabbat,” she explores new ways of celebrating Shabbat in the age of disconnect.
From a Baconator and french fries to baked potatoes and salads (“hardly anyone has a hamburger”), Shabbat dinner is served, all for the low, low price of $4. An hour or two of schmoozing follows the food.
“Living by yourself, and having a group like going to Wendy’s — it gives you a feeling of belonging,” one woman said.
Ritual is what keeps the Jewish people together. Sabbath transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. What better example than taking the mass-produced mundanity of a national fast-food chain and filling it with community, spirituality and the comfort of ritual?
Shira Feder is a writer for the Forward. You can reach her at @theladyxf or firstname.lastname@example.org