On Friday night, July 6th, I had Shabbat dinner with Nofar, a young woman I had met through the Youth Council in Kiryat Malachi. We had had Shabbat dinners in Hof Ashkelon, but this was the first one in Kiryat Malachi, and it was delightful. Quite a few Israelis have family Shabbat dinner together on Friday night, but a lot do not chant any blessings. We had been to several homes in the past that served wine and challah but did not chant the blessings. This home was more traditional.
Nofar picked me up outside the apartment at 8 p.m. Howard and I had spent the day with friends touring the Air Force Museum, so he was too tired to come to dinner. She had come with two of her nieces, ages 7 and 9, both dressed in cute white outfits, and we walked two blocks to the family’s home. As we walked down the street, most homes were behind solid walls at least 4 feet tall.
Nofar’s father died over 11 years ago when he was 47, I think of cancer. He had just come back from a trip. There is a huge painting of him above the living room sofa. Nofar’s mother is a pre-school teacher, and has taught for many years. Nofar is the youngest of 5 children, I believe, and the next youngest is 9 years older than she is. She has tons of nieces and nephews.
Two of her brothers live in town, and they were at Shabbat dinner (as always) with their families. The older brother has a daughter and a son, and he works for Magen David Adom (the Israeli affiliate of the Red Cross) in town. He lives quite nearby. His children go to HaAchim school, and he has been on the parent committee. His daughter had a cousin visiting. Her parents had lived in the States for a few years and her older siblings were born there, but she was born in Israel . The younger son is an architect and drives most days to Tel Aviv. I think he, his wife, and his two daughters live with his mother. They are more religious, and the girls go to the Chabad school. The parents say it is the best school in town for girls. (Chabad has 2 elementary schools, one for boys and one for girls. The boys just study religious material, but the girls study similar subjects as in the public religious elementary schools.) The wife was going to check with the school to see if they might want some easy readers in English.
Past the solid wall at the entry to the house, the family has a patio. On the left side of the patio was a pool with walls over four feet tall. They had just emptied it to clean it, but I am sure that a lot of Nofar’s nieces and nephews enjoy it in the summer. On the right side of the patio, a huge square table was set for Shabbat, and 12 of us sat around it.
It was very nice to have blessings before the meal. First the two sons sang Shalom Alechem. They repeated each verse three times. When I commented on it afterwards, they said that it was the Mizrachi tradition. Then they chanted Eshet Chayil (A Woman of Valor—from Proverbs). They chanted Kiddush, we all washed, and said Hamotzi. Unlike the custom I was used to with cousins, they talked between the ceremonial washing of hands and saying Hamotzi (blessing over bread).
Then food was served and there was a ton. There were at least 8 salads: one with chopped lettuce, beets, spicy tomatoes, tomatoes and cucumber, red pepper salad, cabbage salad, a bowl of green olives with a special Moroccan sauce (which was very good) and several more that I no longer can remember. She also made a huge bowl of couscous and made a vegetable soup as a kind of gravy. She also served meat balls, sliced pot roast, mashed potatoes, a whole roasted chicken, and Moroccan tuna. I focused on the Moroccan dishes and salads. I ate too much even though I kept on turning down dishes. I could not believe how much was on the table. Nofar kept on helping her Mom serve, and it was very hard for the family to get Mom to sit down. When I didn’t think any thing else could be served, out came the fruit. I could not turn down the fresh watermelon but I passed on the grapes, plums and peaches. The grandson Rafael (age 5 who was named for his grandfather) kept on standing next to me and reaching across me to get the grapes. I think he enjoyed the game.
Toward the end of dinner, a friend of Nofar's walked in and the two chatted. The two had graduated from high school together and was in the army, but home for the weekend. (Youth in the army are able to go home most weekends.) The friend looked familiar, so I hesitantly said, "Eden?" and she replied. It was Eden, a young woman that Howard and I had tutored in English the first summer we were in Kiryat Malachi (2003) before she and 3 others headed to Camp Solomon Schechter as campers for a month. What a surprise!
Nofar and I chatted a bit during the meal. She graduated from high school in June, 2006 and has been the navy over 6 months. She took a lot of tests and was just admitted into officer training school. She was to begin in 3 days and was quite excited. Getting accepted into the Israeli Navy in the first place is no easy feat, and starting officer training school is really great, especially for a young woman.
Last summer she was a counselor in California through our Partnership program. She said that having had the experience of being a counselor through a Jewish Agency program helped her get into the officers’ program. Women usually serve two years in the army, but she will serve at least 9 months more. I was quite excited for her and it was a delightful evening.