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Shabbat Lunch is a Country Song. Who Knew?

Image by Photo By Kirby Oren-Zucker

Yesterday, I listened to a country song on the radio, a lyrical lament of a time gone by, as country songs often are. But one line made me laugh: “sittin’ around the table don’t happen much anymore.” It doesn’t, at least not at my house Sunday through Thursday. Though my kids are still small, we are already scheduled within an inch of our lives, my husband and I are attached to our oh-so-smartphones, and dinner is usually in shifts of macaroni and cheese.

And then comes Friday night, the beginning of Shabbat. The wind up to observing the Sabbath is at times chaotic, because while that sun sets Friday night, no matter what, Shabbat doesn’t make itself. In Hebrew, to observe Shabbat is to be shomer Shabbat, a “guardian” of the Sabbath. I always thought it sounded like Shabbat was prone to attack, or would wander off alone if not for your protective skills. Not so far from the reality.

Tuesday I invite guests before they get a better offer, Wednesday I’m digging in the freezer for that London broil I bought on special, Thursday I buy and clean the vegetables, and if I’m motivated, bake challah. Friday night those candles are lit, and after the blessing, we’re done doing, making, creating and a whole long list of other things, which includes cooking.

I haven’t always done this, been shomer Shabbat. I’d been told about it, had watched it from afar. And then someone invited me into her very traditional Jewish home for Shabbat lunch. I once could not imagine observing Shabbat in the most traditional of senses. No cooking, no driving, no television or internet, no shopping, no catching up on laundry. And if there had been texting twelve years ago, I probably couldn’t have imagined giving it up for an entire twenty-four hour period (never mind that Shabbat is actually twenty-five hours!). It seemed so extreme. And yet, when I was first invited to a family’s home for Shabbat lunch, I was intrigued, amazed, curious and eventually, hooked. There was something so calm, in spite of the six kids in the family and all their friends running around. There was so much food. So much talk. So much time around the table. I would climb back into my car after a very long lunch, not so much feeling guilty, as wondering, “How do I make that happen in my own life?” The answer was, incrementally.

I don’t just “not do” on Shabbat. I enjoy what’s been done, what’s already taken care of, what’s been cooked, been prepared. I don’t miss doing the things I used to on Saturday (and Friday night) because I’ve filled those hours with what I look forward to doing on Shabbat. Light candles, make blessings I don’t (and can’t) say during the week, walk to shul, study, ignore my cell phone, eat fresh challah, and chicken soup with knaidlach (matzah balls) and eat a lunch on Saturday afternoon at least five times the size of my weekday lunch of eating what remains on my two year old daughter’s plate.

Usually on Shabbat, we end up with guests, whether or not we had planned on it. We plan for Shabbat, we make room for unplanned guests. There is always room at our table, even if things get a little elbow-to-elbow Bohemian. Never once have we run out of food. Between the challah, the chummus and baba ganoush and the chicken schnitzel and a kugel or two, nobody goes hungry.

Of course, it isn’t about the food, but the attention brought to it beforehand. The lettuce is from your own garden. The blessing was made upon making the homemade challah, and prayers were said for someone sick or in need. The sweet potato pie was baked because your friend Rachel loves yours. Eggs were hard-boiled for your five year old so she can make her specialty of egg salad.

It’s not the food, its amount or forms, but what food prepared by a loving set of hands means everywhere; food is love. Not food as a proxy for love, but as we all must eat, why shouldn’t it be done in a loving way? Perhaps more accurately, it’s devotion. To each other, to the concept of rest itself, to God. And food gives you a mighty good reason to sit around the table.

Chip Salad!

I’d be failing Jewish mother stereotype if I wasn’t worried about people going hungry, so I keep on hand the ingredients for a salad. Its name, Chip Salad, is a little disappointing, but it’s easily altered to your taste or what you have on hand, and addictively delicious. Making a salad and mixing dressing are allowed on Shabbat, so you can put this together as needed. At my table this salad gets passed back and forth throughout the meal, and one repeat guest, my friend Shlomo, and I yell “Chip Salad!” every time it comes back around. More than once, I’ve made this my entire Shabbat lunch meal.

In the largest salad bowl you own mix:
1 head of romaine lettuce or a mix of romaine and red leaf lettuce, torn
1 can pinto beans, drained (approx. one cup cooked)
1 can sweet corn (approx. four ears of sweet corn cut off the cob. This is best left for late summer when the corn is abundant and delicious)
½ cup sliced black olives
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 quartered and sliced cucumber, or 5 Persian cucumbers cut into rounds
3 shredded carrots
½ red onion, sliced
Approximately half a bag of corn chips, slightly crunched up
1–2 diced avocados (add last to the top, after you’ve dressed the salad, so you don’t end up with guacamole)

1 Cup mayonnaise (use light if you must)
1 Cup of your favorite salsa
A squeeze of lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix together before tossing.

Serve. Enjoy. Shabbat Shalom!

Join Reboot in helping people around the world rejuvenate the ritual of Shabbat by signing on to sign off from technology for the 3rd annual National Day of Unplugging (NDU) on March 23rd-24th, 2012. (Sign up here)[]

Kirby Oren-Zucker is a stay-at-home mom, gardener, sitter-around of tables and guardian of Shabbat. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two extremely darling daughters and their dog, Tuffy McCabe.


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