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Wendy’s Shabbat: Beauty Traced with Sadness

February 13, 2018 | by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller

Every week a group of elderly retired Jews hold Shabbat dinners at Wendy’s. It’s beautiful but is this the best we can do for them?

Every week a group of elderly retired Jews hold Shabbat dinners at Wendy's. Despite its unusual and decidedly non-kosher setting, “It’s a meaningful celebration,” notes Rachel Myers, a Los Angeles director and designer in the film industry, whose grandmother Roberta Mahler is one of the Shabbat dinner regulars. In 2017, Ms. Myers decided to make a short documentary about the community, and her film, “Wendy’s Shabbat”, is being screened in film festivals across the United States in 2018.



In an exclusive interview, Ms. Myers explains that her grandmother and others are “finding the connection to Judaism in whatever way they can” through their weekly Shabbat dinners at Wendy’s.

The film is a moving window into the yearning of this group of retirees to connect with Jewish tradition and community. “Shabbat is a unique day,” one regular notes, “because it’s supposed to transform you from the ordinary to the extraordinary.” His regular Shabbat dinners at Wendy’s are an attempt to bring that promise and holiness into his life.

The group is a remarkable testament to the determination to connect with other Jews and with Jewish tradition, no matter what the obstacles.

Judaism teaches that each and every Jew possesses a “pintele Yid”, an indestructible ember within us that longs to express one’s Jewish soul.

This visceral desire to connect has motivated the dozens of Jews who gather each week in Palm Desert. “Living by yourself and having a group going to Wendy’s – it gives you a feeling of belonging,” one weekly participant relates. Another confides, “It gives you a warm feeling to be involved – it’s a feeling within that you need something.”

“Wendy’s Shabbat” is a powerful reminder that we all long for holiness and connection.

The clip has gone viral and is sparking people across the country to get in touch with the filmmakers and enquire about starting their own Shabbat dinners in fast food restaurants. While many find the concept of fast-food Shabbat meals inspiring, I also have found them troubling and traced with sadness. In a country as rich in Jewish resources as ours, is this really the best we can do for our bubbies and zeidies? Judaism mandates that we perform the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim, or welcoming guests. Does the existence of Wendy’s Shabbats mean that we’re not doing all we can to include the most vulnerable Jews in our Shabbat and other celebrations? Can’t we provide these yearning souls with a deeper, more authentic Shabbat experience?

I remember inviting an elderly widow to join us for Shabbat dinner. She eagerly said yes and that Friday evening, as the sun went down, my kids went over to help her down her front steps and into our home. As she walked through our door, she looked transformed. She’d clearly made a big effort to dress up for the occasion and even had her hair done at a salon. She was so happy to have been invited into our home. As we made the Shabbat blessings together, I asked myself why I hadn’t invited her over more often, how we could have let her languish all alone next door all those weeks, longing to be a part of a Shabbat celebration but not knowing how.

“Wendy’s Shabbat” is a powerful reminder that we all long for holiness and connection, and is a testament to the determination to join with others through Jewish tradition.

It’s also a reminder of our duty to include the lonely and isolated among us. It’s moving that so many Jewish retirees are seeking companionship and holiness in ad hoc Shabbat dinners in a fast food restaurant. It’s my hope that soon they can find this companionship in a home, as well. That soon, they can make the Shabbat blessings over real candles, that they can enjoy real wine, and that they can connect even more with their wider Jewish community. For now, their fortitude and determination in trying to carve out a Jewish community for themselves should be an inspiration for us all.

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