First Gumbo and Last Call

I’m really excited to have Danielle writing this week about a different part of the Philly Shabbat scene.

This week I received two Shabbat invitations: one to my new friend Talisa’s, one to my former boss Adam’s. I decided to celebrate this abundance of blessings and attend both, and I was rewarded with a Shabbat of harmonious dichotomies and personal introspection.

Talisa’s Shabbat was her first in her new home in South Philly, a 5-course Creole dinner honoring her Louisiana roots. Across the city, Adam and his wife, Tamar, were hosting their last buffet-style, musical Shabbat at their home in Old City. (By the way, you try picking out an outfit to match both these scenes!)

I went to Talisa’s in the afternoon to help her in the kitchen, alongside our friend Ahava. Talisa is an observant convert who keeps Shabbat in the traditional sense, so we experienced the exhilarating time crunch that can only come in the hours before Shabbat begins. I didn’t know Talisa and Ahava all that well before, but our day spent cooking was fun and memorable, the stuff that friendships are built on. Our flustered, frantic time in the kitchen was a refreshing reminder of the three years that I kept Shabbat in my early 20s — setting up a blecht, unscrewing light bulbs, pre-tearing lettuce, and all the other little things that I had forgotten about. We lit candles, something I haven’t done for longer than I care to admit, and I was able to take a deep breath and send a thank you to the sky just like I used to.

As Talisa finished up preparations for dinner, I picked up my fiance, Misha, and we ran across town to Adam and Tamar’s. Adam is an eclectic guy, a complete original; he was my first ever boss in the Jewish communal world, my mentor and a true friend. His home for me is the site of countless meetings, Shabbat
dinners, and general hanging out, and though he’s just moving to Northern Liberties, saying goodbye to his cozy, welcoming home felt like saying goodbye to a bit of my past.

Adam called his Shabbat “Last Call” because this Shabbat also marked the retirement of his in-house bar, dubbed the “Before and After Bar and Grill” for his friends’ propensity to start and end the evening at his place. This Shabbat was true to his style: classic and new Israeli tunes playing overhead, cocktails flavored with orange bitters and arak (a licorice-y Arab liquor), and a buffet style dinner of teriyaki tofu bites, broiled eggplant with tangy tehina, and some glatt Kosher smoked meat he bought off a guy at his dad’s shul. As friends arrived, we laughed and chatted, pausing for Adam’s rendition of Kiddush, which he began by stating “in the words of my ancestors…”

Adam’s was a Shabbat of the type I have grown to love: relaxed, no pressure, simple good times. The religious element was light, but the spirit of Shabbat lit up the room.

After spending time at Adam’s, we headed over to Talisa’s and arrived just in time for the 3rd course. The crowd was mostly Orthodox, the conversation deep and thoughtful. I loved catching up with friends from my days in the Orthodox circuit and chatting into the night. Talisa’s first Shabbat was a first for me, as well: When I went to New Orleans a few years ago, I wasn’t able to experience the authentic cuisine because I keep kosher. At Talisa’s I tasted my first ever gumbo, a delicious bowl of spicy goodness, full of the love and
warmth Talisa exudes.

Fish is the traditional second course of a French meal, so Talisa sent me out to buy salmon in South Philly's Italian Market two hours before Shabbat, instructing to me "go left at the fruit stand and find the $12 bagged fish".

Talisa’s was the Shabbat I once knew; the Yiddish banter, the prayers, the traditional vibe mixed with community spirit.

For me, this was a Shabbat of reflection, of honoring where I have been and what Shabbat has come to mean to me. This Shabbat I tried gumbo for the first time, and said goodbye to a place I’d grown to love. I spent time with old friends, and made some new ones, too. My relationship with Shabbat will continue to ebb and flow, to grow and change, as I do the same, but knowing that I have Shabbat in my life means I will always be able to look forward to weekends like this one.

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