Sunday, 26 March 2017

On Family Tradition 1: The Goy Boy's Guide to Shabbat at Chez Underling

I have, improbably, convinced the Geek to visit my parents with me for a week that will include one weekend and the first night of Passover. Since the Geek is not Jewish, and gets uncomfortable when religion and ritual things happen, I am compiling step-by-step lists of everything he can expect from Shabbat dinner and the seder. Here is what will happen on Friday night.

Cooking and Music: While my parents finish cooking, they will put on a playlist of Jewish folk music and Israeli pop. If we're lucky, the song shuffler will give us the work of Debbie Friedman, Dan Nichols, and other pleasant memories from my childhood. If we're unlucky, we will get a run of songs by Safam about groups of Jews from around the world escaping persecution. Those songs tend to make me cry.
Setting the table: This will probably be my job. Helping with it will get you brownie points. Here is also where you wash your hands for real (see "Ritual Handwashing" below for an important moment where you don't).
Key items
: Dad will find you a booklet with translations of all the prayers, in which you can follow along. He may also offer you a kippah (traditional skullcap, plural kippot in Hebrew; they are also called yamulkes or yarmulkes in Yiddish) and a multivitamin. Whether you take the vitamin is up to you. I strongly recommend the others.
Candle lighting: Every Jewish holiday begins at sunset and is marked by the lighting of candles and the saying of a prayer by the women of the household. Mom and I will do this. My sister doesn't get home until the next day, but if she were there, she would participate.
Important vocabulary

  • The traditional greeting for Shabbat is "Shabbat shalom" (Hebrew, means "peaceful Shabbat") or "Good Shabbas" (Yiddish). 
  • The name Shabbat means "a period of rest," and refers to G-d resting on the seventh day of Creation.
  • The word "mitzvot" will be thrown around a lot. Mitzvot (Hebrew, singular mitzvah) are divine commandments. There are many of them, including the ten you might remember from Christian Sunday school.
  • I will not be spelling out G-d because of the commandment to not take G-d's name in vain. I will, however, go back and forth about whether to gender G-d. More conservative traditions use male pronouns; Reform prayer books tend not to use any pronouns at all. My sister wrote a screenplay last year for a film class in which all gods use they pronouns, which is why I consider this a dilemma.
Singing: We usually sing three songs before getting into the core of the ritual. The first one is just "shabbat shalom" repeated ad nauseum. The second welcomes any nearby divine messengers to celebrate with us, and the third is about why we observe Shabbat--again, because G-d rested after completing Creation and commanded us to commemorate Creation by resting.
Blessing of the Children: This should go quickly, especially if I'm the only "child" at home. My parents put their hands on my head and ask G-d to bless me as He blessed Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.
Blessing for Wine: This is a long one. It starts with the part of Genesis where Creation is done and G-d rests. Then we praise G-d for creating wine, creating the world, leading our ancestors out of Egypt (which will be the subject of my next list), and making Shabbat holy.
Ritual handwashing: You are not required to do this. It is traditional not to speak between the ritual handwashing and the blessing for the bread.
Blessing for Bread: This is quick and tasty. The bread is challah; it is sweet and braided and will have egg and poppyseeds and sesame seeds on top. Everyone puts a hand on the bread and pulls off a piece at the end of the blessing.
Dinner: I'm going to ask for breaded chicken and kasha varnishkes. There will be side salads, but we will make available whatever vegetable you prefer.
Cleanup: It will be mostly my job to clear the table, rinse dishes, and put them in the dishwasher. Helping with this will get you brownie points.
The rest of the evening: Now we get to the resting part. There may be table games (Rummikub and Oh Hell are the most likely; Word Whimsy might be too high-energy); there may also be television. I am not particularly interested in most of the television, though if Mom watches Washington Week, a political review show I used to watch for her civics class, I may stick around out of morbid curiosity. We go to bed when we go to bed.

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