Friday’s Featured Food: Shabbat Dinner in Jerusalem, Israel

Friday's Featured Food: Shabbat Dinner in Jerusalem, Israel

Friday’s Featured Food: Shabbat Dinner in Jerusalem, Israel

A long overdue article on here today and one I have been buzzing about for a brace of years – Shabbat dinner in Jerusalem, Israel. One thing shocked me when I was in Israel – the food! It’s amazing, it’s healthy, it’s nutritious, it’s plentiful and it’s diverse. Which is completely the opposite from I expected. I still have a load more to write about in terms of meals I had in Israel (and Palestine and Jordan), but the best overall food experience was when we had a Shabbat Dinner in Jerusalem. While staying in what has to be the best hostel in Israel, the Abraham Hostel, we decided to do the Shabbat Dinner. This also meant helping to prepare the dinner as well as enjoying the festivities and eating the stuff.

Preparing the Shabbat Dinner in Jerusalem

Preparing the Shabbat Dinner in Jerusalem

What is the Shabbat Dinner?
At first the idea seemed quite complex but my friends Ben and Itiel and the chef Or sat down and told us what the idea behind Shabbat Dinner is. It is a Jewish celebration that begins just a few minutes before sunset every Friday evening. It’s written in the Halakha (Jewish religious law) documents and is celebrated by Jewish people the world over. Candles are lit, a blessing is recited or sung and a meal is prepared. The Shabbat time ends on the Saturday evening when three stars are visible in the night sky. This also makes the festival time unique and different each week. It may never be the same hat-trick of stars or the same time for the sinking hot ball. The idea seemed “similar” (hope that’s an OK word to use given the sensitivity of it) to how Christians have Sunday as a day of rest from manual labour or paid work. Shabbat is a festive day when Jews live and easy and free time to contemplate the spiritual aspects of life and to spend time with family.

Nightfall in Jerusalem

Nightfall in Jerusalem

Preparing the Shabbat Dinner
We decided to help out with preparation in the kitchen just like we did for the shakshuka meal for brunch, also in the Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem. Panny Yu and I donned our hats and aprons and headed into the kitchen to help prepare the Shabbat dinner. The chefs told us what to do – mostly we just chopped vegetables and tidied up. The head chef was called Or. As well as knowing how much of each food to prepare, presentation was also important as the guests of the hostel would be coming in to help themselves to a buffet. Everything ran smoothly! Here are some photos from our short shift “working” in Israel.

Slicing vegetables

Slicing vegetables

Slicing vegetables

Slicing vegetables

"Working" in Jerusalem, Israel

“Working” in Jerusalem, Israel

"Working" in Jerusalem, Israel

“Working” in Jerusalem, Israel

Having worked in a lot of bars, restaurants and hotels with chefs down the years, some chefs can be very arrogant, rude and generally not nice people. The chefs here were the polar opposite! Telling us we were doing a good job, keeping us right and being very well organised. We were preparing a dinner for over 50 people so things had to be done right. We had been in the kitchen and lounge area for around an hour or so, helping out and getting to understand the Shabbat dinner culture. Then we prepared the tables and poured the wine and then I relaxed with a beer (happy hour at the bar!) once we had the food prepared.

Preparing the tables

Preparing the tables

Preparing the food

Preparing the food

Preparing the wine

Preparing the wine

After preparing the food

After preparing the food

By 7pm all the guests were in their seats and it was ready to start this special evening. This night was a food highlight from my travels for sure. I will never forget it.

Panny and I on Shabbat Dinner night in Jerusalem, Israel

Panny and I on Shabbat Dinner night in Jerusalem, Israel

The Speeches before Shabbat Dinner
It’s all incredibly well organised and formal here at the Abraham Hostel. There is a clear outline of events. Before we eat, there are speeches and singing. All of this is detailed in a leaflet in front of us, which has an English translation for guests that don’t speak Hebrew. The title is Friday night service. Our host for the night is one of the hostel managers, Itiel Sharaby and Itiel opens the speeches and welcomes us all.

Order of events for the evening

Order of events for the evening

Itiel introduces the idea of the Shabbat dinner and we sing/recite from the hymn sheet. The singing goes down well and we join in as best as we can. The videos at the bottom of this article will help piece the whole event together for you, if you are keen to see what it’s like. After the singing, bread is passed around to be shared, another ritual. The bread is special and is called Challah. Then we raise a toast to each other and start to drink the wine and eat the food.

Listening to the speeches

Listening to the speeches

Itiel Sharaby gives a speech

Itiel Sharaby gives a speech

Itiel with the bread

Itiel with the Challah bread

Happy guests listening intently to Itiel

Happy guests listening intently to Itiel

Eating Shabbat Dinner
The dinner was an awesome experience. There were over 50 of us eating the Shabbat dinner that night so we had to wait until our table was called up. We went up in turns. It was an all you can eat buffet. The range of food was something special, here are just some of the things we put on our plates:

  • Whole cooked chicken including breasts with sauce
  • Potatoes
  • Aubergines
  • Potato Crocquettes
  • Beans
  • Tomatoes
  • Stuffed Peppers
  • Red Cabbage
  • Rice
  • Challah Bread (Israeli style)
  • Mushroom soup
  • Israeli wine
  • Israeli beer
My feast at the Shabbat Dinner

My feast at the Shabbat Dinner

At our table we met Luke, from California who chatted over dinner and we found out he was also on the tour with us the day after – we would be touring the best of the West Bank with Abraham Tours. I had another wine and then we retired to our room as we had an early start the next day. And here are some photos from the meal. It was a special time.

Friday's Featured Food: Shabbat Dinner in Jerusalem, Israel.

Friday’s Featured Food: Shabbat Dinner in Jerusalem, Israel.

Getting the buffet food

Getting the buffet food

Tables ready for Shabbat Dinner

Tables ready for Shabbat Dinner

Dishes all ready for dinner

Dishes all ready for dinner

Dishes all ready for dinner

Dishes all ready for dinner

On my entire travels, this night in Jerusalem stands out as one the best food experiences so far. Here are some of my other enjoyable food experiences from my travels:

Here are some videos from the Shabbat Dinner:

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About Jonny Blair

I'm Jonny Blair, a travelling Northern Irishman. Since leaving my hometown a decade ago I have managed to visit over 100 countries and over 600 towns or cities across all 7 continents. Along the way I have worked in countless jobs! Join my journey on Don't Stop Living - a lifestyle of travel as I provide you with tips and inspiration to live your travel dreams! Safe travels! Follow me on Jonny Blair Google Plus
This entry was posted in Abraham Hostel, Abraham Tours, Central Asia/Middle East, Daily Features, Friday's Featured Food, Israel, Jerusalem. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Friday’s Featured Food: Shabbat Dinner in Jerusalem, Israel

  1. Catherine says:

    Hey Jonny, its nice to see you cooking. Wish I could also taste the food..
    Catherine recently posted…Iggie’s Corner presents the Drink of the Week: Brent’s Blackberry PieMy Profile

  2. Jonny Blair says:

    Hi Catherine, Thanks for the comment. I’m a useless chef, my best times in the kitchen was when I cooked burgers and hot dogs by Bournemouth beach. I prefer to be behind (or preferably in front of) the bar! Safe travels. Jonny

  3. Michael Levin says:

    The only country I found that really gives Italian food a run for it’s money is Israel (yes, the food there is THAT good!). This blog post was a great read – I’m only commenting on it now though because I wanted to wait till after I visited Israel. Jerusalem is incredible – there is so much to see and explore there. Oh! We also helped with the Shabbat dinner preparations in our hostel in Jerusalem (a great place called The Post Hostel – friends recommended it to me after their birthright trips so I figured i’ll give it a shot, and I loved it) – wonderful experience!

  4. Jonny Blair says:

    Hi Michael thanks for the comment. For me Mexico, Italy and Northern Ireland are my top three countries for food but for sure Israel did a cool job too – especially Shabbat Dinner. Safe travels. Jonny

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