What It’s Like To Experience Shabbat Dinner & 5 Things You Should Know

If you’re planning to travel to Israel, get ready for a unique Israeli cultural experience. During my trip, I was blown away by all the stark differences between life in Israel and life in many of the other places I’ve visited. The country is rich in culture, heritage sites, religious places, and some pretty interesting natural beauties as well. Heading in, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I like to give destinations the benefit of the doubt because I know what we hear about in the media isn’t always an accurate portrayal. Israel definitely lived to all the hype and one of my favorite aspects of that trip was meeting such extraordinary people.

What It's Like To Experience Shabbat Dinner & 5 Things You Should Know - Read More About this Israeli Cultural Experience - My Normal Gay Life Blog
Western Wall
Israel is Awesome! 

Of course, the sights of Israel are awesome. You have more than 8000 years of history laid out before you in the Old City and that’s definitely something you should not miss. It also makes for incredible photos at every turn. But people are what make history special because culture relies on people. As anyone knows, Israel is definitely a land of culture clashes. In Jerusalem, walking on one street is ok but (depending on the time of the week) it might be frowned upon to walk on another due to religious beliefs. Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all consider Jerusalem a Holy City…and they don’t always get along. Relations between the different religious sects can, at times, be strained. And this is all part of the Israeli cultural experience.

Israeli Cultural Experience: It’s the People

Yet, at the same time, while tensions can run high, it seems the different cultures of Jerusalem seem to co-exist relatively peacefully. This is the part where cultural experience magic happens. My accommodations in Israel were your typical backpacker digs…aka a hostel. Israel, in particular, inspired me to stay in a hostel because I really wanted to meet new people, get a locals perspective on the places I visited, and learn some new stories. As a result, I met a closeted, gay-Arab Muslim man from Nazareth and his story is for another time; a young, German, Buddhist planning to search for himself in the desert like Jesus did; and a pretty radical Christian who believes love is love. That’s only a few examples on top of the locals I met really trying to push Jerusalem into the future while cherishing their history.

These are the types of things I cherish…they’re the best cultural experiences. But it gets better. 

What It's Like To Experience Shabbat Dinner & 5 Things You Should Know - Read More About this Israeli Cultural Experience - My Normal Gay Life Blog
Children playing in the Old City.
Understanding the People

You see, I also like to understand what and why others believe the way they believe. Abraham Hostels provided me with an excellent opportunity to understand a little bit more about Jewish culture through experiential learning. The hostel offers all kind of great tours, adventures, and experiences. One of these cultural encounters takes place at the hostel as they put on a Shabbat dinner for anyone wanting to participate. The dinner only cost 50 NIS (which is about $15) and consists of a delicious spread of local foods, many of which are customary for a Shabbat dinner. It also includes wine and is a great way to meet more fellow travelers. During the dinner you learn the importance of Shabbat to Jewish people, listen to a few of the prayers recited at each dinner, and enjoy Shabbat songs. Then everyone eats together and enjoys the feast! It’s really a fulfilling Israeli cultural experience.

What It's Like To Experience Shabbat Dinner & 5 Things You Should Know - Read More About this Israeli Cultural Experience - My Normal Gay Life Blog
Arieth / Pixabay

Full disclosure: I am not Jewish. However, when presented with the opportunity to understand more of a culture through experience, I quickly jump aboard. It is not a requirement that I be Jewish to have this experience. An open mind is all that is necessary. If you decide to have such an experience, make sure you are ready to participate fully. This means you need to sit respectfully through the prayers and appreciate what is going on around you.

If you’re interested in learning a bit more about this Israeli cultural experience, here are some great facts about Shabbat and the dinner!

What is Shabbat?

Shabbat is a full day of rest and celebration that begins on Friday at sunset and ends the following evening after nightfall. It is the Jewish Sabbath and no one really works on this day.

What It's Like To Experience Shabbat Dinner & 5 Things You Should Know - Read More About this Israeli Cultural Experience - My Normal Gay Life Blog
SaadiaAMYii / Pixabay
Don’t do these…

There are many activities which are forbidden during Shabbat such as driving, turning lights on or off, operating electrical appliances, cooking, or carrying items in public. However, only the most Orthodox observe these rules strictly. Most of our meal was cooked the day before so be prepared for cold chicken. Don’t worry…it was still tasty! In Jerusalem Shabbat is more strictly observed and you won’t find anything open. However, in Tel Aviv it isn’t as strict and you’ll find bars open that night.

Candles

Candles are technically lit before Shabbat begins. The purpose of candles is to create a peaceful and festive home.

Shabbat Prayers and Wine

Shabbat begins with a prayer over wine called kiddush. It also includes a special collection of Psalms and singing Lecha Dodi. At our Shabbat dinner, it ended with another prayer ceremony called havdalah which is typically used to usher out the Shabbat on Saturday.

What It's Like To Experience Shabbat Dinner & 5 Things You Should Know - Read More About this Israeli Cultural Experience - My Normal Gay Life Blog
RitaE / Pixabay
Food

Every Shabbat meal begins with two loaves of bread to remind participants of the double portion of manna that fell every Friday as the Jews wandered the desert post-Egypt exodus. You should was your hands before breaking bread. The food served can include stew, soups, various salads, and even a nice dessert. I personally enjoyed the hummus! The meals are convivial and celebratory and I used it as a time to really get to know some of the people present.

Thinking of visiting Jerusalem? Check out the 5 things I learned during my trip! 


What kind of cultural experiences do you prefer?
Comment below! 

J Harvey

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What It's Like To Experience Shabbat Dinner & 5 Things You Should Know - Israeli Cultural Experience - My Normal Gay Life

J. Harvey

J Harvey is a travel writer based in North Carolina. With two masters degrees, he decided to forget working a normal 9-5 job and instead create a travel blog focusing on travel for a more inclusive community. He hopes to increase LGBT representation within the travel industry while inspiring others to travel in whatever capacity.

mynormalgaylifegmail-com has 105 posts and counting.See all posts by mynormalgaylifegmail-com

17 thoughts on “What It’s Like To Experience Shabbat Dinner & 5 Things You Should Know

  • October 18, 2017 at 5:52 am
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    I would love to visit Israel sometime—it sounds like such a wonderful mix of beliefs and cultures (even if they do clash sometimes) and the history in the area is just amazing! Thanks for sharing information about Shabbat. I have heard the term before but never really knew the details or what it stood for. The food you had sounds wonderful and it sounds like a wonderful way to connect with the people you are with and to learn more about the culture!

    Reply
  • October 17, 2017 at 10:52 am
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    Israel would be such a fascinating place to visit! I knew there would be a mix of cultural and religious considerations, but even for walking down one side of the street? How amazing and interesting! It sounds like you met a wonderful mix of people, with really rich stories to tell. I’ve never heard of Shabbat before, but I think it’s such an honour that you were able to participate, if if you aren’t Jewish. It sounds like a really moving experience. I’m curious about the dessert!

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    • October 17, 2017 at 2:30 pm
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      It was quite nice that the hostel put on a Shabbat dinner for those wishing to participate. The people were definitely awesome and Israel really did find a place in my heart. As for dessert, I usually don’t eat dessert but I’m sure it was some sort of a pie or cake or something.

      Reply
  • October 17, 2017 at 12:49 am
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    I would love to visit Israel – I’m interested in the biblical history, as well as the melting pot of culture / clashes, and seeing how the city blends it’s ancient historic sites with modernity and modern history. Like you, I’m also really interested in understanding what and why others believe the way they believe so it would be a great destination to chat to many different people with such different beliefs.

    Attending a Shabbat dinner – what an awesome opportunity to immerse yourself more in the culture and learn first hand about Jewish beliefs.

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    • October 17, 2017 at 2:31 pm
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      Culture is where it’s at! Travel is about feeling closer to humanity often times for me and so I’ll try my best to put myself in situations where I can feel it. The dinner was a delicious cultural experience! 🙂

      Reply
  • October 16, 2017 at 9:23 pm
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    I’m glad you got to have such an immersive cultural experience. I strongly believe that a lot of the fighting and tension that goes on in the world is the result of the unwillingness to have an open mind. There are very few people who “quickly jump on board” an opportunity to learn about a culture other than their own. Thanks for sharing your great experience and teaching me a little bit about Shabbat!

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  • October 16, 2017 at 4:56 pm
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    It’s nice to see hostels hosting the Shabbat dinner for the guests to participate in. It’s such a unique experience that had they stayed in a hotel, wouldn’t have been available to them in the first place. That double bread looks delicious. Is that particular salad part of every Shabbat dinner, too? Looks great!

    Reply
  • October 15, 2017 at 9:28 pm
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    The people you met at the hostel sound so interesting. I’m sure mixing with other travelers there was an enriching experience. I find it quite cool that you participated in the Shabbat as well. I didn’t know much about the customs so I learned a lot reading this

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    • October 16, 2017 at 9:02 pm
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      It was awesome to share this type of meal with so many different Jewish and non-Jewish people. The food was great and I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world!

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  • October 15, 2017 at 6:21 pm
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    I love that you realize all it takes is an open mind! I feel the same way myself. One of the most beautiful things in this world is the peaceful coexistence of people with different customs and beliefs. Excellent pictures, especially of the food which is always tricky.

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    • October 16, 2017 at 9:26 pm
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      It’s definitely worth approaching new situations and experiences with an open mind. You’ll have such a more rewarding experience!

      Reply
  • October 15, 2017 at 10:24 am
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    This sounds like a fantastic way to learn about Jewish culture in Israel firsthand. Years ago my mom went to Israel with her friend and they had so many great stories to share, but I’m not sure if they participated in a Shabbat dinner. Thanks for sharing your experience and for the tips.

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    • October 16, 2017 at 9:31 pm
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      It definitely opened my eyes to an aspect of the culture I would not have experienced elsewhere. Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  • October 15, 2017 at 5:54 am
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    I was planning a trip to Tel Aviv this December but had to push it to next year. Excited to experience a shabbat dinner soon too! I’ve always been interested in experiencing different cultures in the middle east and east asia.

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  • October 14, 2017 at 9:07 pm
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    I enjoy learning about different cultures and i think i would find this pretty fascinating. It’s not a place I’ve visited but I can see the appeal. Great read

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    • October 16, 2017 at 9:33 pm
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      I hope you have the opportunity to travel to Israel one day and have a similar experience!

      Reply

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