I hope that you’re all doing okay, and that all is well with you.
I had a truly fascinating evening recently, and wanted to share it with you. I was invited to a Shabbat Dinner, (a Sabbath dinner) by friends in Paris. They introduced me to their Sabbath dinners a few years ago, and they give them almost every Friday. I’d never been to one before and didn’t know what to expect the first time, and didn’t think much about it before I went. What I found was a really interesting group of people, of all ages, and the atmosphere was lively, warm, enthusiastic, relaxed, congenial. It was a gathering of all ages, many religions, all walks of life. The friends that do these evenings are a lawyer (she), a cardiologist and researcher (he), and they had friends from their own professions, other lines of work, their children, their children’s friends, their friends’ children. The evening began on a religious note as they lit the candles, said a prayer, chanted a prayer, broke bread and sipped wine (no different from our Christian traditions), and then everyone dug into delicious food and engaged in long, interesting conversations about politics, literature, art, film making, and a million subjects. It is a treat to be invited to their Shabbat dinners, and I look forward to it, every time. I’ve been to 3 or 4 of them now, and it’s a privilege to be invited, and I am always intrigued to see who will be there from their grab bag of friends, colleagues, and young people. And the most recent dinner of theirs that I went to was a knock out, and incredibly eclectic. I love the way they gather people around them, regardless of religion, and one feels warmly welcomed, whatever one’s traditions. (What a contrast to the Catholic traditions I grew up with, with quiet Friday night dinners, and always a meal of fish which I hated, although I loved my religion. But I hated the fish, always felt sick from it, and years later, discovered I was allergic to it). At my friends’ Shabbat dinners, the food is plentiful and varied, Italian, Thai, exotic, hearty, roast beef, many choices, and a huge array of delicious, irresistible, and fattening desserts!!! Even the food is joyful at their table, and everything seems happy. To some degree, although I’ve never been to a Shabbat dinner, other than theirs, I think the evening and the combination of people, interesting mix, and long hours of conversation are more likely to happen in France than in the States. The only thing all the guests have in common at their dinners is that everyone is French, probably not by intention, it just happens that way.
The other thing that always strikes me at their dinners is how seriously educated their guests are, and the variety of jobs they have. My own friends seem to be in business, some in the arts, doctors, lawyers, and have pretty human scale jobs. But their friends are in fields that I never even think of. This time I sat between a nuclear scientist and researcher, whose intellectual capacity is out in the stratosphere somewhere compared to mine, although he was very nice, and he’s married to a school teacher. On my other side was a man who sells gold, the man next to him is the head of all cultural radio in France, there were a film maker, a screen writer, a politician of some kind, several lawyers, the age range was from 2 weeks of age (the hosts just had a baby, their 4th child) to 87 years old, with a group of young people at the far end from 17 to 22, two of them law students (the hosts’ older children). Two birthdays were celebrated, 17 and 87. And all the ages and professions and groups were mixed, and it struck me as I looked down the table of 14 or 16 people, that there were two Catholics I knew of including me, two Muslims, and most of the others were Jewish. We all stood respectfully for the lighting of the candles and chanted prayers, as the baby passed from one set of arms to another, amidst the lively discussions around the table, and as always, the table was crowded with platters of delicious food, Mediterranean, Italian, Greek, roast beef and potatoes. There is something for everyone at their table in terms of religions, personalities, interests, careers, and even food (and way too many delicious cakes, and I tried at least three of them).
The star of the show for me was a tiny woman (I’m 5 feet 1, and she was several inches shorter than I), with bright red hair, a lively personality, she strode into the room looking lively and attractive, bursting with energy, and I guessed her to be about 70, and discovered when we celebrated her birthday later that she was 87, that day. She is a documentary film maker, still busy in her career, just released a new movie, and published a new book, and I found her instantly fascinating as I listened to her at dinner. She was as sharp as a tack, and one of the livelier participants at the table, she had style and energy and a magnetic personality. And listening to her, I discovered that she survived 4 of the worst concentration camps during the war, is a well-known personality, and has made some important documentary films, and was married to a film maker. She was mesmerizing as she talked, and showed us the number tattooed on her arm at one point. She spoke without hesitation or artifice, there was nothing arrogant about her, and listening to her life experiences, especially during the war, was riveting. I have no idea how she survived what she did, and remained whole, alive, full of energy and life. Her family had been decimated by the camps and the war years. Our hostess gave all of us her latest book, which I read the next day, in awe of what she survived in the camps, and how she survived it and demonstrated the strength of the human spirit then and throughout her life. Her book was incredibly touching and poignant, and I was filled with admiration for this woman whom time has not touched, but has been through so much in one lifetime. I felt truly honored to meet her and talk to her.
The dinner ended long after one o*clock, and as always was warm, fascinating, touching. I will long remember the tiny red haired, ageless, timeless woman, so full of life and talent, with a spirit that nothing has destroyed. And once again, I went home feeling so lucky to be included in such a special evening, and to meet so many talented, bright people I would never have met otherwise. And then I went back to my own real life, filled with more ordinary pursuits, and less unusual people. What a blessing to share an evening like that, and come home richer for it. And I will be forever haunted by the film maker’s book about her experiences. I felt humbled by it, and all of those around me. It was, once again, an amazing evening, which I won’t forget. It was a rare night, filled with special people of varied and extraordinary talents. And I felt so lucky to be a part of it……
have a great week!! love, Danielle