By Sandy Cardin
Imagine the scene: you walk into the dining room or kitchen and see the table filled with empty platters, messy plates, strewn utensils, crumpled napkins and even a few spills. In the next room, there is a crowd of guests in a post-meal daze, some praising the meal, some critiquing it, all perhaps acknowledging that they ate and drank a bit too much. Some people feel satisfied, some feel like they ate in excess, and more than a few are beginning to doze off from indulgence and exhaustion.
That pretty much sounds like an election too, doesn’t it?
At least this year it does. As one of the most divisive elections in our nation’s history comes to a close, many of us, of all political persuasions, are also feeling like those guests in the parlor room – overfull, dismayed, exhausted and, for some, anxious. We may have all imagined we were dining at the same electoral table, but in truth, we were not. We were dining alone, or with others like us, and were often failing to see the people at the other end of the table. For many of us, the election created divisions among colleagues, friends and even family, with each dish of debate being served hotter and hotter, and the sweetness of elector victory only being served to half of those at the table.
For the proverbial six days of the election, we labored over our politics and principles. But now is the time for rest and reconciliation. Fortunately, we have a spiritual ‘app’ for that: Shabbat. The Sabbath creates both time and space for us to stand apart from what is behind us and ahead of us, and allows us a moment to just “be” in both a spiritual and intellectual sense. Shabbat, in its most simplistic form, is a sanctuary in time that allows us to breathe more deeply, think more clearly and talk more truthfully – to one another and ourselves.
As Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote: “The Sabbath, thus, is more than an armistice, more than an interlude; it is a profound conscious harmony of man and the world, a sympathy for all things and a participation in the spirit that unites what is below and what is above.” In this sense, Shabbat is a weekly beacon of empathy and understanding, and a place in time where those conversations that cannot find a home any other time of the week can finally find a place to be held. Even if it is not harmonious (and far too few conversations these days are), the very idea of gathering around a table to both engage in new ideas and reconcile our frayed nerves and nation is critical. When civic spaces become too overloaded with anger, it is the sacred spaces that must carry the burden.
It is in this spirit that our Foundation is joining with our partners at Repair the World, OneTable and Moishe House to encourage as many people as possible to host or attend a Shabbat dinner, starting this Friday, November 18 and continuing over the coming weeks and months. Repair the World has developed a conversation guide that can help get the discussion started. OneTable has created a page on their platform where anyone one can download the guide and young people in particular can sign up to host, order food, and access hosting tips and subsidies. You can find it all at onetable.org/conversation.
We hope that in doing so, people will find a safe, sacred space to process the election, begin to address the painful divides and issues it has surfaced, and consider how we can work together to strengthen civil discourse. By opening our homes and our hearts to conversations in which we listen to, learn from and share diverse perspectives, we can begin the sacred work of repairing our communities – work that will take more than any one of us; it will take all of us.
Indeed, in a time where there are still too few opportunities to sit together and talk, especially about issues that matter, Shabbat dinner is an experience we can all share, regardless of who we are or where we come from. While some might best understand Shabbat within the context of the Jewish faith and culture, many people from other faiths and backgrounds embrace the rituals of a Friday night dinner, seeing it as a sacred “technology” for personal reflection and communal connection. In this way, Shabbat dinner can also serve as a platform of inclusion and self-creation, allowing individuals to bring their own multi-dimensional (and often multi-cultural) selves to the forefront. Something we also need more now than ever.
That is the beauty and potential of Shabbat dinner. It allows us to reimagine our dining tables as ongoing opportunities for discovery, creativity and consciousness. It empowers us to reach out to divided communities and to engage with the full diversity of people living all around us. It enables us to open our hearts, nourish our souls and recommit ourselves to the sacredness of healing.
And when we are done, it requires us to fight the exhaustion, roll up our sleeves and work together to clean up those empty platters, messy plates, strewn utensils, crumpled napkins and spills, and to get back to the important work of repairing our world.
Sign up to host a Shabbat: Continuing the Conversation dinner and download the conversation guide at onetable.org/conversation.
Sandy Cardin is President of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.