Shabbat at My Parents’Home
I am neither a religious fanatic nor do I want to preach the Jewish religion to others. What I am trying to describe here is, above all, the atmosphere which surrounded this sacred event of Shabbat. It is the way of life that our ancestors knew how to create and to envelop us with. As to give an example, every Thursday the women visited the cemetery and the tombs of members of the family and of friends. They cleaned the marble tomb stones, and then they placed sprays of flowers on them. Even among the wealthy, some women volunteered to clean the synagogue and light the oil lamps for those who left the community for the world of light. Never has anyone desecrated either our cemetery or our synagogue.
All inhabitants of the town respected each other, regardless of their religion or their ethnicity. After school, the girls assisted their moms in cleaning the house and preparing the food for Shabbat dinner and the Shabbat day meals, as on Shabbat the Jews refrained from doing any work, as prescribed by the Jewish law. After school, the boys went to the religious school, which was located within the building of the synagogue as to rehearse the songs for Friday night and for Shabbat. Some boys repeated the song of “Eshet Hayel” (Proverbs 31:10-31 – A good wife who can find?) and others sang the “Yegdal Elohim Hai” (A Praise song for the Living God) or rehearsed the Parasha (the weekly portion of the law) and the Haftara (the chapter from the Prophets) for Shabbat. Most Jewish women used to light oil lamps in memory of Rabbi Meir, of Rabbi Shimeon Bar Yohai or of another saint of their choice or for a member of the family who left them during the year. On Fridays, the women were busy from dawn to the lighting of the candles (before sundown) preparing the meals for Friday night and the Shabbat day.
Before my father came home, Mom set the table with a white table cloth and our best china and cutlery. Friday night dinner was the usual North African couscous with meat, vegetables, boulettes (fried and then cooked meatballs) and Osbana (home made sausage cooked in the soup, made of organ meat, a little rice, spinach, mint and spices). Then there were some of the traditional Shabbat day dishes, such as the Dfina, either a meat and beans stew which was left to simmer on embers all night, or the Pkeila (a fried spinach dish with meat, very special for that region), or a stew of wheat and meat, or a Nikitous soup (chicken soup with tiny handmade pasta, rolled between the fingers, the size of a pepper corn, which the women prepared during the week). For Shabbat afternoon they prepared cold dishes, to avoid any work, such as roasted chicken eaten cold, a fish dish, a fruit dish, large omelets, called Ma’akoud, made with cooked and fresh eggs, cooked meat, chicken or fish, and potatoes, green onions, pepper, and spices, sometimes mixed with other ingredients that varied from family to family, and which were finally cooked in the oven. Another dish was the Maghmooma, a vegetable stew made of fresh tomatoes, garlic, green and red peppers and spices, which was eaten cold. There were also all kinds of salads. And I cannot forget the various cakes and pastries and the bread which mom used to bake every single day. In our region the women prepared the glass full of home squeezed grape juice for the prayer. The Arabs prepared the aromatic herbs called Rehan for the Jews’ prayer on all that smells good, at the end of Shabbat day. When my father arrived home, all noise stopped. He usually brought with him the aromatic herbs, jasmine flowers or other flowers of the season.
After school, we the boys quickly washed up and put on our nicest clothes. Some said their prayers at home and some went to the synagogue. I used to accompany my dad to the synagogue and sometimes I went to a more remote synagogue located in the Ein Shemech neighborhood, where only the older generation, who could no longer walk a lot, was congregating in a private house. For me, these visits and prayers were most memorable.
After synagogue, when I reached our house, I was happy and full of love. Hour house was lit with great light and the two Shabbat candles enhanced the beauty of the table, where mom added the bouquet of flowers in the middle of the table and created a festive atmosphere. The two loaves of bread, covered by a festive napkin, were lying next to the flowers and to the glass of juice for the prayer, called Brakha. A serene ambiance was created and emanated also from the smiles of my mom and of my five sisters, who prepared us a very nice welcome. All of this gave me a feeling of divine love, happiness and joy, which stayed with me all my life until today.
When I think about my family, I feel a constant spiritual stream flowing and inundating my soul and my entire being. This it what for me means the Shabbat at my parents’ house.
After so many years, when I make a prayer, I always bless first all the people of the world, those who left this life, and the people who are still suffering, and after this I pray for all my ancestors and only after that I pray for my parents, my family, my kids and their descendants. Finally I pray for my wife and for myself.
I thank my parents for giving us such a rich spiritual heritage. They created in us the respect and the love for others by their way of life and by all what they did, without having any diplomas from universities. With their simplicity and their natural sense of all which is sacred, regardless of their religious affiliation, they knew how to instill joy and to awaken the sacred soul in us.
Copyright 2008, Emile Tubiana