A chasid, an Israeli, a feminist and a secular Jew walk in to an apartment…
No, that’s not the beginning of a bad joke, it’s how we do Shabbat here at the JSC-Israel apartment. We’ve hosted several Shabbat dinners in our apartment, making good use of the beautiful, huge mirpeset (porch) we have wrapping around our apartment. It felt natural, therefore, to plan another Shabbat meal, come up with a fun theme (“food your Bubbe makes) and invite our friends. We don’t know all that many people here, so between the four fellows in the apartment, we figured we would have maybe 10-15 people. On Wednesday, most of our invitees had turned us down, and we sat at dinner together and agreed that if we made it to eight people at the meal, including the four of us, we would still host, and if not, we wouldn’t.
Friday morning we did a head-count and got to 19. By the time dinner started Friday night, there were 25 people at the table– 7 girls and 18 guys. Good odds for the ladies. The crowd included adamantly secular Israelis, black-hat Orthodox Americans and everyone in between.
We were worried that the meal would be awkward because of the mixed crowd. Due to the late addition of so many people, we were concerned about having enough chairs, table space and food. And, I think we were concerned that the presence of such a mixed crowd meant that the meal would automatically feel more “frum” (religious) and the more secular guests would feel isolated.
As my roommate Rebecca commented before we sang Eshet Chayil (a hymn traditionally sung on Friday night praising the values of a “Woman of Valor”) and she did Kiddush, we pulled off a small miracle with this meal. Though we were quite stressed Friday with all the cooking, borrowing chairs and tables from everyone we know in Jerusalem and ensuring we could literally fit all the people in our apartment, I think we all felt so proud that we pulled it off.
Our Shabbat guests, and in fact the tenants of the apartment, are like a little microcosm of Israel. We frequently have discussions of how to blend all of our views on Judaism and our comfort level with different levels of observance so that everyone feels comfortable. For example, prior to Shabbat we decided that instead of doing traditional zemirot (songs) in Hebrew, we would do popular songs in English that everyone could sign along with together. We toyed with the idea of printing song sheets with Shaggy’s “Wasn’t Me”, Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” and Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” but backed out when we thought there wasn’t going to be a dinner Wednesday evening.
When we heard the sound of music drifting from the more yeshiva-bocher-heavy side of the table, we got concerned and tried to start a nice round of “Buttercup”, but failed.
Never fear, ARAK IS HERE! Several l’chaims (shots) of arak, a truly foul smelling and tasting anise liquor, later, we had launched in to rousing renditions of many popular Disney hits including “A Whole New World”. Fun fact: our Israeli neighbors knew 100% of the words to the Disney songs and put everyone else to shame. One or two more shots of arak later, and every guest was standing on their chairs belting “Hey, Jude” by the Beatles. It was a beautiful, magical experience. Our fears were for naught.
Judaism in Israel, and especially Jerusalem, is complicated. Living in a pluralistic apartment is complicated. Hosting 25 people for Shabbat is complicated. And despite everything, all we could discuss over breakfast this morning was whether we can make this type of blow-out Shabbat a monthly tradition.
Have Arak, Will Host.