As I mentioned in my post on Lauren Winner’s chapter about Sabbath, I was invited to have Sabbath dinner at the home of Barbara and David Kline one Friday while David was rabbi at Temple B’nai Israel in Monroe. David is a reform rabbi, but the Klines chose to keep kosher, a decision that made cooking the meal a spiritual task in itself.
Having taken a graduate-level course in the history of Bible lands and done my paper on women’s role in Judaism, I knew more than the average non-Jew about what to expect. I was nevertheless unprepared for the profound spirituality of the meal and the extent to which its sacredness flowed directly from Barbara.
I had learned that the temple’s destruction caused great change in Jewish religious expression, and that the focus moved from temple/sacrifice to synagogue/law during the Exile. The home’s dining table became the new altar, and though a very different kind of ritual occurred there, it was no less important.
I’d read about the candle lighting that signaled the beginning of Sabbath and knew that the woman whose home the meal took place in performed it. I knew Barbara would reach forward and make a gesture of beckoning, drawing the light toward her. But just as reading about Eucharist is no substitute for having taken communion in a community of beloved companions, the power of this ritual escaped me until I sat at Barbara Kline’s table as she performed it. The creation of sacred space and time requires confidence and spiritual presence – gravitas – and the sacredness of that meal astonished me.
This does not mean that David and their daughter were not eager and involved participants. I believe their meal occurred each week with just as much significance and joy. All three were completely present to the ritual and performed their roles, including the singing of songs, completely unselfconsciously. David also interpreted for my husband and me what the Hebrew meant and what the blessings signified.
Jim and I left Monroe in 1995, and the Klines don’t live there now, either. When I began to think about this post, I googled them. I first encountered an article about their daughter. Shira is their youngest child and the one who still lived at home when we were guests. What David did impressed me; what Barbara did, preparing the meal and presiding at the table, impressed me more. But what impressed me most was how their daughter, then in her early teens, was so comfortable and happy with the ritual that she had no reservations at all about participating, even singing, in front of strangers.
In fact, Shira became a professional musician. She moved to New York and worked in theatre for a while. In April 2010, she told Julie Wiener of _The Jewish Week_ that “the only problem with theater was it canceled Shabbat completely. There was a show every Friday night.” I can see why she would find it such a loss. The richness of the experience, the opportunity to disengage, not in a negative turning away from the world but in a positive turning inward toward the sacred, made that meal one of the most meaningful spiritual events of my life. I am grateful still.
Mouzon Biggs, Jr. Associate Professor of the History of Christianity and United Methodist Studies at PTS