My First Shabbath Dinner in Jerusalem

Israel, The Middle East

When I made a conscious decision to be a travel blogger, several years ago, I made a promise to myself to be as adventurous and as open to new cultures and practices from other countries as I could possibly be.

Over the past years, I have had a lot of amazing experiences, and I have been exposed to a lot of new cultures, customs and history and I think I was able to fulfill that promise.

During my trip to Jerusalem this year, I have had the wonderful chance of experiencing yet another first, a Shabbath dinner.

Now, Shabbath, as everyone probably knows is a religious day for the Jewish people. Non Jewish people also celebrate Shabath but for the purposes of this blog, it refers to the Jewish custom.

Shabbath is derived from the Jewish word shavat or cessation of work. It depicts the seventh day when God supposedly had His rest after creatin heaven and earth.

Shabbath begins a few minutes before sunset of every Friday and ends when the three stars appear on Saturday evenings.


On this day, every few stops working and indulges in activities of relaxation. If you happen to look outside, you will see the streets of Jerusalem completely deserted except for some non-secular Jews and toursits wandering around the Holy City. (the best time to visit the wall is right before Shabbath).

It is also an opportunity for families to partake in religious Shabbath dinner to give thanks to God.

As almost everything in the Jewish custom, celebrating shabbath dinner is steeped in tradition and history and one cannot proceed to the dinner without reciting prayers and observing some rituals.

The dinner begins with a kiddush or a sanctification over wine and then another blessing is offered over two loaves of bread called challah. These proceedings are held in a sacred manner, you will definitely feel the presence of the Almighty around you.

In a traditional Jewsih household, a Shabbath dinner is observed by preparing the best and prettiest meals and every member of the family will be gathered around the table wearing proper clothes. There will be a white tablecloth (mapah) and a Kos l’kiddush (kiddush cup).

Since I was staying at a hostel during my Jerusalem visit, my Shabbath dinner was somewhat different.

Right befor the dinner, all guests of the hostel were encouraged to help out. And believe me, there are lots of things to prepare for Shabbath dinner.

I was in charge of the tomatoes and the kitchen manager was careful to give me specific instructions on how he wants the tomatoes. He wanted it minced to a relish in small uniform sizes (ha!).

Guests from other parts of the world were in charge of meat, beverages and table set-up, it was really a team effort and it was definitely a great feeling to share a special meal with new people.

Before dinner, some of the locals were singing songs of blessings and we gathered around them.

As soon as the blessings started, a hush fell and everyone was in complete silence as we listened to the prayers.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Shabbath dinners are not boring stuff. on the contrary, it is a time for merrymaking.

Once the blessings are done, everyone begins lively discussions with one another. I was sitting at a table with an American, 3 Germans and a Frenchguy.

Since we were all travelers, our conversation of course veered towards the places in Jerusalem we saw earlier that day and the places around the world we’ve been.

We talked about the ongoing Israel-Palestinian conflict and it was a refreshing experience to hear people’s thoughts and opinions on something that’s really important.

People who are not fond of traveling will never know what it feels like, but I, in that moment, was overwhelmed with awe and happiness in meeting and talking new people from other parts of the world and sharing my love of travel.

We talked about our first solo adventures and why we became travelers in the first place. It was really honest and poignant. Maybe it was the Negev beer or the solemn Shabbath prayers.

We may not become best friends in the long run, but during that specific time and place, we were sharing something special and for me, it was a memory I will cherish for the rest of my life.


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