Always wondered exactly what Shabbat is? A centerpiece of Jewish life, Shabbat is (or ‘Sabbath’) is a day of rest celebrated on the 7th day of the week. Traditionally, Shabbat is observed from sundown on Friday until nightfall on Saturday. Find out more about this ancient practice from our Tel Aviv host Anat.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Shabbat?
Family. It’s a family dinner because we are all very busy and we don’t have time to meet and talk. With Shabbat, time stops. People come to pop in and chat and say “shabbat shalom”. When guests come for Shabbat dinner, they are like family for a night.
What is your favorite part of Shabbat in Israel?
Dinner is the center of Shabbat. In Israel on Friday afternoons, public transport starts to stop, people have time to relax and go to the beach, and you can feel that Shabbat is coming. I love preparing for Shabbat, especially thinking about how the next day we can rest! Shabbat dinners are usually shared with family as well as new and old friends.
What makes a Shabbat different?
Let me start with a story about one of my first guests. I’ve been hosting Shabbat dinners for 4-5 yrs and I had two women from Portland come to join us. They had come to Israel to visit the Holy places and wanted to experience a traditional Shabbat dinner.
When they arrived at my home, they said, “Wow! Is this Christmas? Is this Thanksgiving?” That night, there were 20 of us sharing the table and Shabbat traditions. And the best part is that we are still friends today.
To me, Shabbat is a very special day. I believe that when people come to my Shabbat dinners, they immediately feel at home thanks to my warm welcome and a glass of wine when they step through the door. That’s what makes my event so special – this homey welcome and the feeling they get as soon as they arrive.
We tell stories and discuss recipes. Israel is so multicultural with such a rich history so there is always something interesting to talk about. People don’t just come to eat, they come for the full Israeli Jewish tradition of family and, of course, food.
What are the must-have dishes at Shabbat dinner?
First of all, there’s challah. I bake it every Friday depending on how many people are coming. They are so good that there’s normally none left!
I also serve dishes that are close to my family. I make an Eastern European-style chopped liver as well as a Moroccan fish recipe from my in-laws.
And you can’t have Shabbat without chicken soup. You can smell it from anywhere! We say it’s the Jewish grandmother’s antibiotics. I even get emails from guests asking for my recipe long after they’ve gone home.
I take my family’s traditions and blend them with my own recipes that have evolved over the past 40 years. I make my own traditions now.
Is there a specific dress code for a traditional Israeli Shabbat dinner? Kippah? Pants? Dresses? Long skirts?
We provide lots of kippahs. I’ve begun making kippot so people can take them home. But, kippot are optional.
Usually people don’t come wearing shorts, but a few weeks ago some guests sent me a message explaining they didn’t bring pants on their holidays and asking if they should buy some for the dinner. I told them not to worry. It’s a family dinner and we’re very easy-going. But yes, people traditionally dress smart casual or “family casual”.
Do guests participate in the Shabbat prayers?
Yes. There is a special shabbat prayer (the bread and the wine). We also sing a song that calls out to the guests saying that it’s time to eat. Most Jews know the songs and prayers, but 25% of my guests aren’t Jewish. But everyone is always welcome to join in! Guests like to take photos and videos because it’s a special song – when Jews from all over join in, it shows how many things we have in common.
I tell guests about the prayers, translate for them, explain why they’re special and what they mean. It’s nice because it gets everybody talking so guests who didn’t know each other 30 minutes ago start chatting to one other. And that’s what Shabbat is all about!
What inspired you to start hosting Shabbat dinners?
I’m an event planner and I love organizing and hosting dinners. About 5 years ago, we moved to our now apartment and our friend showed us an article about Eatwith. Now, instead of just hosting Shabbat dinners for my family, I can share the traditions and culture with people from all around the world.
Eatwith has changed not only my life, but my family’s lives as well. They’re always there helping – in the kitchen and getting the conversation flowing. My children and grandchildren love coming to my Eatwith dinners and talking to people from countries they’ve only read about in books.
Think about it: who has the opportunity to eat with strangers? Eatwith is a great way to facilitate that. The whole concept is great – guests want to get to know people and locals. And the best way to do that is to sit down and share a meal with a local in their own home.
What is fun about your Shabbat dinner?
The most interesting thing about Shabbat dinner, aside from the food and prayers, is that every dinner is different. It really depends on who is sharing the table with you. We’ve had so many experiences with guests!
For example, a few weeks ago, we had 18 guests from Germany, Canada, Australia, Miami, etc. One of the children from the Miami family was a musician and we asked him to sing. He got up and sang a Beatles song and everyone joined in! Then we had two Swedish girls who wanted to sing an ABBA song from Eurovision. Everyone looked up the lyrics to the song and we sang along. Once people feel comfortable with each other, they sing, dance and laugh.
Another time we had guests from the Pacific Islands and they sang a local Fijian song. We’ve also welcomed a Chinese group who taught us a traditional Chinese dance. It’s such a magical moment.
What do you like about being part of the Eatwith community?
I didn’t realize how much of an influence it would have on me when I first started hosting. There are so many advantages to being part of the Eatwith family. First of all, I’m part of a community of hosts who support and encourage one another. The Eatwith management team is fantastic and does a great job of keeping us together.
Eatwith really has become an important part of my life. I’m still doing everything I was before I started hosting, but now I’m doing it differently. I think Eatwith has made me a better person.