I’m up early today and just had a chance to read a piece on Kveller by Nina Badzin entitled, “10 Hosting Hacks to Make Shabbat Dinner Easier.” It’s a nice piece and I encourage others to read it. I agree with all 10 of her recommendations but also feel summoned to share some of our practices here in the Lapidus household.
I stand firmly with the Zionist philosopher Ahad Ha’am who famously wrote, “More than the Jewish people have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jewish people.” I’m the rabbi of The Davis Academy, an awesome Reform Jewish Day School. When I ask kids what’s their favorite Jewish holiday I get lots of answers. Usually Shabbat isn’t at the top of the list. That’s not because they don’t love Shabbat, but because they don’t realize that they get to celebrate the most wonderful holiday ever each and every week.
My wife and I are both rabbis. We have two young children. That makes hosting Shabbat dinner a bit tougher on the schedule than either of us would like, but we manage to do it anyway. Here’s the list:
- GO CASUAL. At least when it comes to attire. Sometimes folks are coming straight from work, but if you can convey the casual and comfortable memo, it makes the evening much more pleasant for everyone.
- USE YOUR SPACE. Depending on how long you want the evening to go, a change of venue can really help. I love my dining room table. For an hour. Then I start to focus more on how uncomfortable the chair has become and how appealing the couch is. If I want to settle into a long evening then a change of venue is key.
- PLAN GUEST LIST WISELY. Shabbat dinner can be about connecting with dear friends or it can be about nurturing and transforming professional relationships, or it can be about bringing people together who otherwise might not have the opportunity. It can be kid friendly or kid unfriendly. I suppose it’s obvious, but it’s good to think about guest list and sometimes even about seating.
- SET SOME EXPECTATIONS. If you’re doing kid Shabbat let people know when your kids go to bed. If you’re doing grown up Shabbat but don’t want it to last until morning services, tell folks when to come and when to leave at the outset. Part of being a gracious guest means not eating and running, but sometimes guests are ready to leave and you’re ready to let them, but you don’t know how to get there.
- CLEAN UP THAT NIGHT.
- ENGAGE YOUR GUESTS. If your guests are new to Shabbat, bring an authentic level of explanation to the rituals. If your guest is a former NFTY song leader, have them bring a guitar. If your guest is a political blogger, talk about politics.
- LEMON AND LIME WEDGES. Make everything better.
- TELL STORIES. Challah cover was a wedding gift from your rabbinic mentor? The small shot glasses of bourbon (optional) are a nod to a friend that died of cancer? Share.
- GRILL. Easiest way to keep cleanup simple and make delicious food. If you’ve got one.
- IT’S YOUR HOME NOT YOUR HOUSE. Guests aren’t looking forward to being in your HOUSE. They’re looking forward to being in your HOME. There’s no need to make the floors sparkle and the windows shine. Better is present a slightly sanitized but genuine expression of your home.
- GO SPIRITUAL. Spirituality is something that all people share, even if some are more comfortable than others. Shabbat, especially the Shabbat rituals, provide opportunities for spiritual meaning– to offer words of blessing to spouses, children, and friends, to invite angels into your home. Shabbat dinner is more than just a meal on Friday night, it’s a chance to connect with self, others, and existence on a deeper level.