Rabbi Milder of Beth Emek in Pleasanton sent out an email to his congregation last Friday reminding them of the importance of food – as a gesture of hospitality, as a social mixer, as a gesture of caring.
Here’s what he had to say:
Shabbat services don’t feel complete without Oneg Shabbat. It’s like dinner without dessert.
For many of us, Oneg Shabbat is where we sense belonging to our Jewish community. It is a Brigadoon kind of community, magically appearing each week, sometimes with new guests.
Oneg means joy, like a cookbook, “Joy of Shabbat.” The service is the meaty stuff, the deep thinking; the Oneg is the icing on the cake.
We need Oneg, the simple pleasure of being together with others in celebration of Shabbat. The schmooze, catching up on the past week, on where our kids went, on which relatives are visiting.
Of course, what makes it feel right to schmooze is that someone, very thoughtfully, put out a nosh, a snack. Maybe some nice cheese and crackers, whatever fruit is in season, perhaps a pie. They set out plates and napkins, made a pot of decaf, brought some lemonade. Maybe they made it pretty in some personal way.
We’ve gotten used to thinking that Oneg Shabbat just happens. Instead, it should be something that we do for one another, something that we each take pride in creating for our community.
Rabbi Milder continues and urges his congregants to take a hand in producing the oneg at their shul. Cooking, baking, or just buying food, is something each of us is able to do. Getting involved in a synagogue for the first time can feel hard. But we can all manage food. Join the Hospitality or Oneg committee at your shul. You’ll meet friendly people who like good food. You’ll share a favorite recipe or get a new one from a new acquaintance. I like to bring edible flowers from my garden to decorate the trays (pansies, calendula, roses). Food (and flowers) can start up a conversation with someone new. Give it a try. If you are already an old hand at your synagogue, make it your goal to chat with someone who looks new this coming Shabbat.
Then please email me and tell me how it went.