A Warm Shabbat (Sabbath) Dinner for a Cold Winter Night

In Judaism, our Sabbath (Shabbat) begins at sundown on Friday evening and ends when three stars appear in the sky on Saturday evening. For us, the Sabbath is celebrated both at home and in the synagogue.

As a rabbi, my Fridays are usually spent preparing for services and the teaching I will do on the weekend. But it’s important to me that I, too, experience the home aspects of our Shabbat rituals and celebration. I love hosting people in my home so we can welcome Shabbat together: good food, good company and wonderful conversation.

As you can probably imagine, cooking for these Friday night dinners might make my life a little frenetic. I try to alleviate the stress by preparing for services as much in advance as possible and by preparing for these dinners as much in advance as possible as well.

And since I need to leave home by 7:00 pm in order to get to the synagogue on time, I invite people for dinner for 5:00 pm. It might seem early, but it allows us time to eat a leisurely and enjoyable meal without being rushed.

I also have a “secret weapon” that allows me to do all this as graciously as possible: my housekeeper Rebecca. She arrives at 4:30 pm and helps with last-minute preparation and does the clean up and dishes. This permits me to truly be present for my guests, and also lets me leave on time without worrying about putting food away or returning home late at night to a dirty house. Rebecca makes it possible for me to truly experience Shabbat.

My great-grandmother's brass candlesticks from "the Old Country"
My great-grandmother’s brass candlesticks from “the Old Country”

As my guests gather around my table for the Shabbat blessings, I light the brass candlesticks that belonged to my mother’s grandmother which she brought with her to the United States from “the Old Country”. My mother used to light these same candlesticks every Friday night. So I have a part of my mother with me every Shabbat.

I use the Kiddush cup – the cup for wine that we use to usher in Shabbat with a special blessing that sanctifies the day – that I received as a gift for my Bat Mitzvah. I think of my father who officiated at my service and blessed me on that day, so he too is with me each and every Shabbat as well.

My Kiddush cup I received as a gift when I became Bat Mitzvah in 1973.
My Kiddush cup I received as a gift when I became Bat Mitzvah in 1973.

My house is filled with art and Jewish ritual objects that resonate with memories from so many different times and places. I love to share these with those who come to visit.

And so it is with my cooking. I pour myself into the dishes I make, trying to think what will most please my guests and make them feel honoured and special.

This past week I wanted to make something warm, fragrant and satisfying. Something that would warm our hearts as well as our souls – that would lift us up and help take our minds off the dreariness of these cold winter days.

Here is my menu for a “warm Shabbat dinner for a cold winter night.” Enjoy! (Click on the green links for the recipes)