We had the most lovely Friday night dinner recently. We don’t often have the opportunity to attend or host a traditional Shabbat dinner, but this past Friday, we did. My husband was off from work on December 24, so we decided to host a Shabbos dinner. We tried to invite Jewish friends, most of whom were either out of town or had other plans already. Ordinarily, we’d have invited some non-Jewish friends to round out our table, but we figured most of them would be busy that night.
As it turned out, a family we know who are not Jewish asked us Friday morning if we were still having a dinner that night, and we were still looking for guests. When we had trouble finding guests the more traditional way, I had resorted to pleas on my Facebook page for anyone who wanted to come who didn’t have any other plans. As it happened, despite their celebrating Christmas, our friends were very interested in coming to our house for dinner, so we happily welcomed them.
What resulted was a warm, friendly Shabbos table. We had a veritable feast. Given the whole day to cook, and the fact that both my husband and I can and do cook on a pretty equal basis, we were able to make quite a few dishes, from appetizer to dessert. We had homemade challah, cucumber-and-tomato salad, gefilte fish, Moroccan-style salmon, chicken, meatballs, broccoli kugel, roasted potatoes, and homemade brownies. We did candle-lighting before sundown, kiddush (blessing over the wine) and Motzi (blessing over the bread) before the meal, and the Grace After Meals at the end. The entire Shabbat dinner experience, and, all-in-all, quite a successful meal on all counts.
Our non-Jewish friends asked what the significance of the dinner was. Since it was a special night for most Christian or Christian-identifying people in the world, she wanted to know if December 24 specifically was special, or if we were just having a random dinner party, or what. I took tremendous pride in explaining that this was a reasonably traditional Shabbat dinner, something that Jews around the world do every Friday night. To us, what was special wasn’t that it was December 24, it was that it was Friday night. It occurred to me that some might look upon it with awe, that Jews have a special holiday dinner every week.
I felt especially Jewish last Friday, and not in a negative way. I felt like we were doing something so absolutely right, by having a nice Shabbat dinner on Christmas Eve, just like we might have on any given Friday night, whether it was December 24 or April 27 or August 5. On the other hand, the fact that we were having a nice Shabbat dinner on December 24, as opposed to all our neighbors and many of our friends who were celebrating Christmas Eve in whatever traditional way their families have, was a way of acknowledging in a particularly powerful way that we are different.