It’s a wonderful thought,” says Lisa Goldberg, as children play on the floor and many hands work together to put the finishing touches on dinner preparations, “knowing that on Friday night, all around the world, Jewish families are coming together to share a meal.” Gathering on a Friday night to celebrate the Shabbat is a tradition that honours God’s day of rest after he had created the universe, as described in the Torah, and it is a ritual that these families enjoy weekly. “Growing up,” says tonight’s host, Gary Horwitz, “I always looked forward to it and now it keeps the kids close.” Gary and wife Paula moved to Sydney from South Africa in 1986 and have three sons, Josh, David and Sam. Their regular Shabbat is a much-loved event attended by friends and family members of all ages.
Just before sunset, while Gary prepares dinner, Paula lights two candles that represent the two commandments: zachor (to remember) and shamor (to observe), and says a silent prayer to welcome the Shabbat. Traditionally, all work must be completed by sundown as the Sabbath is a day of rest. It ends on Saturday night when three stars have appeared in the sky. Jewish law lists 39 types of work that may not be undertaken during Shabbat – some of which (winnowing [to separate the chaff from grain] and beating wool, for example) are relatively easy to observe for city dwellers. Others, such as kindling a fire (which includes using electricity) are followed only by observant and Orthodox Jews.
For the Horwitzes and their friends, Shabbat is an occasion for celebration. Once preparations are complete and yarmulkes (skull caps worn by Jewish men) have been donned, eldest son Josh claps his hands and makes the weekly announcements: friend Daniel has just had his braces removed, again, and brother David has made the NSW schoolboy rugby team. After the cheering has finished, Josh recites the Kiddush prayer over the Shabbat wine and guests respond with ancient phrases. The youngest guest blesses the challah (a sweet, braided bread) and everyone helps themselves to a piece with a schmear of chopped liver.
Chicken is traditionally eaten for Shabbat dinner and tonight, along with the chopped liver, there is matzo ball soup – dumplings served in a chicken broth, and grilled spatchcocks served with a spicy sauce and gem squash – a vegetable Paula remembers fondly from her childhood in South Africa. Although the Horwitzes do not keep kosher, they have not mixed meat and dairy tonight. Vegetables and eggs are considered parve – neutral foods that may be served with either meat or dairy.
As the meal comes to an end with dessert, the young adults begin to drift off to other events and the elders gather together to catch up on the week’s events. Sometimes, these dinners run late and noisily into the night while others end more quietly. “Our kids have grown up knowing that Friday is family night,” says Lisa, as her four children gather their things. “It’s not enforced, it’s just what we do. And I love that feeling of togetherness.”
Photography by Alan Benson.
As seen in Feast magazine, November 2011, Issue 3. For more recipes and articles, pick up a copy of this month's Feast magazine or check out our great subscriptions offers here.