Shabbat is not any Friday. It is every Friday from sunset until the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday evening. It is a day of rest when everything stands still and time stops. Everything is closed with the exception of a few restaurants; there is no public transportation and even airports close down. It is such a special celebration that everyone ”receives an additional soul every Shabbat”.
What a better way to celebrate the upcoming weekend than with a good conversation over a festive family dinner dressed in your finest garments?
I choose a non-revealing black dress for our Shabbat dining experience. Me and E., my partner in life and crime, make a quick stop at the Wailing Wall to attend the evening prayer before we meet our hosts Shmuel and Chana. Chanting men dance in a circle and I quickly blend into the festive atmosphere. There is something very intimate to witness others’ prayers.
The house in the Jewish Quarter has two separate sinks for kosher cooking. The interior resembles a museum, an art gallery or a jewelry store. It is not allowed to switch off electricity, to use mobile phones and cameras during Shabbat. Thus, Jewish homes have lights with automatic switches. We wish each other a peaceful Shabbat with the greeting ”Shabbat Shalom”. Shmuel says a blessing over kiddush cup of red wine and sips from it. Guests follow suit and taste the wine in their glasses. After kiddush, we perform the ritual hand-washing for bread. The group of curious travelers is strongly homogenous – everyone is American except one. After everyone says a few words about themselves, we learn about the different types of Jewish people. Shmuel and Chana, a young couple who emigrated to Jerusalem from the United States, answer all our questions about the Jewish culture. We pass around their wedding album and a family album of a few generations.
As someone who prefers to prepare their own meals, I am fascinated and severely impressed by the fine dining experience. It is impossible to put into words how delicious everything is: from the special breaded Challah bread, pickled vegetables, stuffed eggplant, roasted salmon, a perfectly seasoned salad with seeds, chicken soup with Shkedei Marak (yellow croutons) to the chocolate cake.
After a great evening learning about the Jewish culture, singing traditional Shabbat hymns and enjoying amazing food, we vanish into the night ready for the next day’s adventures.