Everything Went Wrong Last Friday

Last Friday, people were set to arrive at 6:30 pm for Shabbat dinner. At 3:00 pm I realized my oven wasn’t working. After wasting 20 precious minutes trying, and failing, to light the pilot light, I changed my plans. What was supposed to be roasted veggies and lasagna became four different kinds of salads. (Luckily, I’d bought the challah and pie for dessert already baked.)

At 6:00 pm, I hadn’t set up the food, swept, rearranged the furniture, hung up the strings lights, or opened the wine yet. I hadn’t done my Friday ritual of reading the blessings over and over in preparation because, even after all these years of practice, my Hebrew pronunciation is terrible.

I did a bit of freaking out.

Since I started working at OneTable, I’ve tried to host dinners once a month. I keep them open to the community because I remember how alone I felt before I found my #ShabbatSquad. Each month, seven or eight of my 15 guests are strangers, and each time I’m grateful for the gift of Shabbat dinner, but also a little anxious about impressing new people.

So, last week while I was doing some light hyperventilating, jogging around the house with cleaning supplies, I reminded myself that it always turns out great. These strangers weren’t coming to judge whether my apartment should be featured in a lifestyle blog, or to rate my culinary prowess, they were hungry for community.

Plus, one of my favorite bits of the Talmud (I’m studying for my Bat Mitzvah) is this, “Shabbat is a queen, whose coming changes even the humblest home into a palace.”

In that moment, I knew that would have to be true. My small-ish, studio-ish apartment on the west side of Chicago, far from any train stops or grocery stores, but warm and open to those who seek community over the Shabbat dinner table, would have to be my palace for the evening. I dressed quickly, gave up on my rearranging and decorating dreams, hung what lights I could, and hoped for the best.

At 7:30, after introductions and blessings (done by a volunteer), everyone had a plate in front of them, a glass in their hands. We talked together about some city events, and we talked in our own small groups about our lives and fears and hopes. We mingled, and promised to remember new names, and greeted old friends, and forgave Lauren when she showed up late because she’s always so late.

At 6:00 pm it was a nightmare of everything going wrong in front of strangers. At 9:00 pm, after the Shabbat queen had certainly arrived and made herself known, it was a dream of saying goodnight to friends new and old, a lovely end to a perfect dinner party.

Al Rosenberg (they/them) is the Chief Strategy Officer at OneTable. Al lives just north of Chicago, loves handmade candles and board games, is a board member emeritus at Mishkan, and hosts a monthly Rosh Chodesh Well Circle.

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