Shabbat at the Farm: Creating Intentional Space
Just before the Passover holiday, I was lucky enough to travel to Isabella Freedman retreat center with 17 other Jewish, Outdoor, Food, Farming, and Environmental educators to begin our year-long fellowship. We spent our days hiking, learning, and creating a community which will become our nation-wide network of professionals doing similar work to our own at each of our host institutions. Near the end of the two weeks, we were getting ready to celebrate our second and final Shabbat together. It was Thursday, and when the director asked for a volunteer to coordinate Shabbat, as the OneTable representative, I felt an obligation to share the wonderful OneTable ethos with this group! Together with my co-coordinator, Francis, we had just a few hours the following day to get everything arranged.
On a normal week when I’m hosting Shabbat with OneTable, I frequently begin my planning on Monday, setting a menu, a theme, curating my guest list with known and new friends, and planning a reading or intention for the evening. Luckily, the main meals were already planned by the amazing Isabella Freedman staff using locally grown and sustainably sourced ingredients. With a bit of prep time, we began by looking at the Hebrew calendar to situate this Shabbat in the year, and the lunar cycle. It was Rosh Chodesh, the start of the new month of Nissan. Nissan contains Passover, and is therefore associated with freedom and storytelling.
We gathered anyone interested in giving input Friday morning at breakfast to discuss ways to incorporate many people’s stories into our Shabbat. Some people had specific songs they wanted to teach, and some wanted to contribute decorations, or family traditions. One Fellow shared that in her family, they always begin Shabbat with tequila shots, so when we asked a few people to run to the store for special Shabbat snacks, we made sure tequila was on the list. By bringing everyone in to create a meaningful space, we only had to facilitate the movement from one moment to the next, and the pressure and focus was off of the coordinators. In addition, many people felt connected and excited to share their traditions with the group. I found a reading from At The Well that I shared about celebrating Miriam’s story in the month of Passover and during the new moon, which is typically a time to celebrate women.
I handed out names for each person in our cohort from a hat, and asked each person to make a Shabbat-o-gram (a note) for their designated person. The small exchanges of gifts and notes throughout the night added personal connection and joy (oneg).
Just before we started dinner, one fellow showed me how to collect and create pine branch garlands. We strung them along some divider screens in the room and wrapped them with twinkle lights to change the space where we had been working and learning for the week into an ethereal Connecticut winter wonderland. It was satisfying to use the nature around us to decorate the space, and also to know I was creating no waste out of our decorations.
My co-host was a rockstar, and I never felt anxious about running the day because she was right there with me, and we had each others backs. From this Shabbat, I want to take home the following learnings into my Shabbat dinners in D.C.:
- Have a co-host: no one needs the stress of going at this alone. Team up and everything will be twice as fun!
- Incorporate everyone’s traditions: ask guests to bring a reading to share, lead a song, or bring dessert. It’ll lessen the weight on you, and make everyone feel valued.
- Decorations don’t need to be wasteful or cost money: go outside, pick up some pinecones or wildflowers, or upcycle an empty wine bottle and fill it with twinkle lights. Keep it simple, but guests will really appreciate the effort to make the space special.
- Situate your dinner in it’s time cycle: find a relevant weekly parsha video at bimbam.com, find a monthly reading at atthewell.com, or look to what holidays, seasons, or current event are happening. Shabbat doesn’t exist in a vacuum, its a weekly reflection or check-in on our lives, a pause to breath and take a look around.
- Never hesitate to start Shabbat with tequila shots, it’s a great ice breaker!