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Preparing for Shabbat

May 9, 2009 | by Lori Palatnik

Personal reflections on preparing ahead -- so that it all comes together.

"The week does not carry Shabbat ... Shabbat carries the week."

You get out of Shabbat what you put into Shabbat -- from the clothes you wear to the sheets on which you sleep.

Preparing is part of Shabbat, to the point where even if one has help to do all the cooking and cleaning, one must still personally prepare something in honor of the day.

If you are a guest at someone's home and arrive Friday night, you will probably notice things sparkling and shining, from the silver to the smiles on the children's faces (on a good night). How did it all happen, and why is it all for this day?

Here are some personal reflections:

* * *

The first Shabbat that I made myself was a nightmare. I had left everything until Friday -- you just can't imagine the scene.

So now I've spread it out for the week. On Monday my cleaning lady comes to give the place a good scrubbing. On Wednesday I think of menus and shop, and usually make my chicken soup so I know that it's done.

Thursday I cook most everything, so Friday is only small last-minute items.

Some weeks I'm really "into it" and cook up a storm, but other weeks I'll just throw something together and keep it simple.

I make sure everyone gets a bath before Shabbat; the little ones I do Thursday night, the older ones do themselves Friday after school.

Before Shabbat comes in they get a choice of wearing either their Shabbat clothes or pj's. And I always get dressed up, even if there's no guests. My husband says, "You don't get dressed for guests, you get dressed for Shabbat."

I even try to set the table Thursday night to make the house feel Shabbosdik all day Friday. (But more often than not the kids do it Friday afternoon.)

* * *

I used to work for a non-Jew, and the more observant I became, the harder it was to take off early on Friday in the winter (when Shabbat comes in early).

At first I would be apologetic and make excuses, but then I realized that he would never understand, saying things like "just stay late this one time." Finally, I just said I had to go, period.

The whole situation was a good incentive to leave and branch out on my own. Now that I'm my own boss, the pressure of preparing for Shabbat has lifted, and I don't have to worry about making it in time.

* * *

To me, preparing for Shabbat is a total sensory experience: particular attention to colors, smells, textures. This is what Shabbat is all about. You just can't serve any old meal; it has to look alive, beautiful, inviting ... special.

* * *

My challenge is to finish up all my work in order to get away on time to be a help to my wife before Shabbat.

Before I leave work on Friday, I phone home to see if there are any last-minute items that need to be picked up at the grocery store or cleaners. And I try to pick up flowers for my wife.

When I get home I set all the lights, making sure the bulb in the fridge is always turned off, and go through the bathrooms, swapping facial tissues for toilet paper.

Then I rip the lettuce. Don't ask me how I got that job, but somehow it's become mine, so unless I do it there's no salad.

Before I grab a shower, I put away all the muktzah (non-Shabbat items like money and pens).

This whole routine takes about an hour, so I make sure I'm home at least an hour before lighting.

* * *

I started getting into Shabbat in Israel, where I ran my own aerobics business.

Friday was my busiest day, as I taught about seven classes all over Jerusalem. Then I would rush back to my dorm before the buses stopped running, run in totally panicked, and yell, "I'm never going to make it!"

There was always this same girl who lived in our flat who would calmly answer, "Yes, you will," and then help me do what I had to do.

Shower ... makeup ... wine for my hosts ... lights off in my room (which I unfortunately would leave in a mess) ... and then grab a taxi to whatever neighborhood I was spending Shabbat in.

Sometimes it was so tight that I thought I'd be stranded, but I always seemed to get in just under the wire -- exhausted, but there.

It's funny... today I have my own family and have so much more to do to prepare for Shabbat. When my guests arrive I sometimes envy them the leisure of going out for Shabbat. And then I remember my days in Israel, and realize, married or single, it's still a challenge to be on time.

* * *

My teacher always said that Friday is not a time for frantic physical preparation for Shabbat, but rather unhurried, spiritual preparation for this important day.

She had a rule: no cooking on Friday. What's done is done, and that's it! Instead of cooking she would gather up all the children and go on an outing. Then she would take time to do some reading and thinking about the whole concept of Shabbat.

How I envied her attitude and organization! Finally some of it seems to be rubbing off on me. It used to take me the whole week to make Shabbat, with Friday being jam-packed. But now I've gotten pretty good, with recipes that are easy and yet impressive to serve, and helpful hints that make the whole process a breeze.

The main thing is to make the time-consuming stuff ahead. That means challah has to made and frozen by Wednesday or Thursday. I make a double batch every time so that I only bake every other Shabbat. I suppose I don't have to make my own, but once you start doing it, the family gets spoiled, including me. So it isn't Shabbat without homemade challah.

I get my groceries delivered to save a lot of time, even though it might cost a bit more. But I figure my time is worth something, and running around to a million stores to save a few dollars just isn't worth it.

* * *

I like to make things on Shabbat that I never make during the week -- to make it special. Even a fruit salad can be extra nice by using only tropical fruits. Things should be different and in the spirit of Shabbat. If something cost a little extra, that's okay. It's for Shabbat!

* * *

Shabbat preparations start when I invite my guests at the beginning of the week. I try to prepare things with them in mind, even when it comes to the inviting. Who will mix well at the table? Who would enjoy so-and-so? Who eats vegetarian?

When I was single, I used to go to a woman's house for Shabbat, and she never let me make my own bed. "That's my mitzvah," she would say. "Don't take it away from me." I've tried to incorporate her philosophy, so part of my preparation is making sure there are clean sheets on the beds, fresh towels in the bathrooms, and a flowering plant in the guest room.

I find it's small touches that make people feel at home. You should always show them the house (especially the bathrooms), so they know where everything is. If they are overnight guests, putting out coffee mugs by the hot-water urn and special treats like brownies or cookies for the morning seems to make the difference.

I want people to enjoy Shabbat and want to come back, often.

Excerpted from "Friday Night and Beyond" by Lori Palatnik (Jason Aronson Pub.)


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