Posted January 31, 2019
By Emily Steinman
I am always envious when I hear people describe their Shabbat dinner rituals. When my children were babies, I had a fantasy that once they were old enough to join us at the table, Friday night dinners would be sacred—I’d light candles, make a special meal, and we’d all share anecdotes about our week. Well…that never really happened, at least not on a regular basis. While I do try to make Shabbat dinner when we are all home together on a Friday night, more often than not it doesn’t happen. Last week’s Shabbat is Central event gave me a great excuse to have a special Shabbat evening, and I jumped at the chance to host a dinner.
Our guests included seven congregants we had never previously met, and most had also never before met each other. Initially, I was not sure how the evening would play out, especially when one of the first things we did was to pass around a bag for cellphones so we could all heed a suggestion made by the synagogue and “pause” for Shabbat. I made it clear this was optional, but everyone eagerly jumped right in, dropping in their phones and even their “smart” watches!
Central Synagogue provided each host with a set of beautiful cards, which contained prayers, quotes and insightful prompts to help us think about the meanings behind the blessings and rituals of Shabbat. These were a great starting point for our dinner conversation. What began as a group of strangers sitting around a table quickly evolved into a long meal with people sharing stories of both their Jewish journeys and their journey to Central. Congregants who witnessed the Sanctuary fire and participated in the stenciling project during the restoration described the scene to congregants who were so new to Central that they had not yet learned about the fire. We even had a guest who volunteers at Central as a docent and was able to describe the incredible care and attention to detail that went into the rebuilding efforts!
An evening which began as a group of people who had randomly signed up on a website for a dinner ended as a community of people who, though they came to Central at different times and in different ways, found they had much in common. In fact, a few guests walked out the door exchanging emails (yes—we remembered to return everyone’s phones!) and sharing photos they had taken from a trip to the same place.
After being members of Central for nearly 20 years, we don’t often find ourselves spending an evening with a group of congregants we don’t know, and yet, because of this Shabbat is Central event, we were excited to welcome new members and meet others with whom we share pews, but had never met. Like everything we do at Central, the experience we had that evening far exceeded any of our expectations.
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