by Evelyn Goldfinger
I was born into a Jewish family in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I had the privilege of attending a Jewish school through high school where much of my Jewish identity was transmitted. My parents reinforced this with a Jewish education in the home, which was enhanced by what my sisters and I learned at school. I also went to Camp Ramah Argentina and became a counselor and Rosh madricha (head counselor).
But before all that, before learning the Parasha (Torah portion) for my Bat Mitzvah, before my first encounter with a Tanach and even my first activity as a camper, there were our Shabbat dinners. See, one of my greatest blessings was that my parents decided, together with another three families, to make Shabbos dinner every Friday night. We would light the candles, go to shul and then gather together to say the brachot (blessings), talk, sing and eat the Shabbat meal. It was a magical experience that fed our spirits, our minds and – last but not least – our stomachs. I think it was week after week, Shabbat after Shabbat, that the spark for my Jewish identity started shining brighter and brighter.
We would say the brachot together and then the children would sit at our own table with the older ones helping the younger ones by serving the food and the younger ones would ask the older kids about life in the higher grades.
Each house became our home: one had the mizrahi flavors, another had special kid-friendly food and mine had the ashkenazi recipes that my mom would enhance with new “inventions.”
The seasonal question, “Why is this night different from all the others?” became instead the weekly question, “Where are we having Shabbat (dinner) this Shabbat?” And when the answer was “here, at home,” the days we spent in preparation would turn out to be an event, too: buying the food, setting the special Shabbat table, the rich aromas that would fill the air in anticipation… It was a true celebration! No matter how tough the week was, no matter how busy parents were with work, on Friday night we would gather around the table and spend those precious moments together singing in Yiddish, Hebrew, Ladino, and discussing Jewish topics and words of Torah. There were also special guests strategically invited to discuss certain topics, family that was visiting from out of town or friends with whom we wanted to share our table. No matter what house we were at, it was always “our” table.
Robert Fulghum says, “All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten.” I say, “I discovered my Jewish identity around the Shabbat dinner table.”
In time, I became a theater artist. I am a performer, director, playwright and even a researcher. (My Jewish parents wanted me to go to university, right?) I’ve always felt that real life experiences leave such an important imprint on people and this vision is translated into my work. Since 2003, I have directed a theater company that does tzedekah work with a group of Hillel volunteer members at Hillel Argentina. The cast performs for underprivileged children and it promotes universal values deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition like tikkun olam. As with Shabbat dinner, we unite in song, story and dance in company with each other. We share with each other a unique space that is built in time.
Then there is tradition. As one generation sits with the next around the table, and thousands of years of tradition blends with the future in an ever continuous and ever changing circle, I wrote The Bubbe’s Trunk, an educational play to teach children about Yiddish language and culture from an interesting musical and hip perspective. We received local YIVO (IWO) support and we performed for children and their bubbes and zaydes.
And there is also storytelling. I guess that transmitting Jewish narrative through a “here and now” experience always made sense to me, which is why five years ago I created a Jewish educational theater ensemble called El Toratron. This program aims to motivate children and adults to approach and deepen the study of Torah and Jewish traditions through interactive and educational shows. Like we experienced every Friday around the Shabbat table, El Toratron connects children and adults to ancient Jewish heritage in a unique, fun and profound way. Our motto is “get ready to live the story of your people like you’ve never imagined. El Toratron opens its doors, and you are the main character.” And indeed it has opened its doors to wonderful communities, events and even to magnificent international networks such as ROI and PresenTense.
Looking back, those Shabbat dinners are a great part of my heritage and more than 20 years later, we are still making them. True, we “children,” well… we’ve grown and now friends and sweethearts have become regulars around the table and some even live abroad with their spouses, but the spark still shines, waiting for the next generation to join us.
Evelyn Goldfinger is an international award-winning researcher, theater director, playwright and performer from Argentina. She is the Creator and Director of El Toratron, a Jewish educational theater ensemble. Check out El Toratron latest show “Shalom, Shabat”, made possible thanks to an ROI Seed Grant.
Connected by the ROI Community of Jewish Innovators.