I may have mentioned before that I refer to the wedding weekend as the Wedding Olympics. Instead of star athletes, there’s a star couple! There’s a lot of promotion that goes into it for months prior (the real Olympics has a theme song. Do you?) People travel to be there and set up camps in Wedding Olympics Village, otherwise known as “hotel blocks for the X wedding.” Nikes and leotards are traded in for tuxes and dresses, but there still seems to be a costume or uniform, of sorts. Oh, and the bride and groom get a prize instead of medals; they get each other! And there are so many events!
The wedding weekend is a concentration of events that could start as early as the Thursday or Friday before a Sunday Jewish wedding. One of the Friday events is usually a Shabbat dinner hosted by a family member.
Since Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, begins on Friday night at sundown, traditionally, this is a time spent at home with family and those who feel like family. Everyone gathers over a delicious meal, sprinkled with laughter, warm discussions, and in-house recreation that shies away from impersonal distractions like television and video games.
Including out-of-town guests, immediate family members, and available bridal partiers is a great way to marry (ha ha!) the Shabbat tradition with the simcha of the wedding. This event can set the tone of your weekend. Plus, it’s never too early to start spreading warm, fuzzy joy.
About a week or so after the formal wedding invitations go out, you may send your Shabbat dinner invitations to the selected guests. It’s up to you how many people you want to include. It’s not expected that you coordinate a pre-wedding wedding! Typically, your Shabbat dinner will be smaller than your wedding guest list and that’s perfectly acceptable. Take into consideration that Friday or Saturday may be travel days for some out of town guests, so it’s likely your attendance won’t be 100% anyway.
Obviously, before you can send invitations for the Shabbat dinner, you need to secure a location. This can be someone’s house who is generous enough to host. Shabbat dinners can also be planned at a synagogue’s reception hall, JCC, or even at a restaurant in a private room. We’ve heard of some couples paying tribute to a meaningful place by enjoying Shabbat dinner at their university’s Hillel center if they are both alumni of the same school and are local. Basically, there is no rule for the location.
Menu items can vary, but traditional Shabbat dinner usually includes roasted chicken, brisket, noodle kugel, soup, and vegetable dishes. There is no rule that these foods have to be part of the Shabbat dinner spread; this is just what I’ve seen at Shabbat dinners that I’ve attended and, hey, they were a hit! If you’re having a Southern wedding, by all means, have a BBQ and serve cobbler for dessert! Do what’s personal and traditional for you, the couple!
There are some items that you will definitely want to have at your Shabbat dinner.
Here’s a checklist:
Pitcher of water and bowl for hand washing
The best dishes and silverware
Booklets with songs and birkat ha-mazon (blessings after a meal)
Having a Shabbat dinner during your wedding weekend will also give you a chance to spend time with people you may not get to see much on the big day. The wedding day has its own set of events, so setting aside an extra festive day to honor family, friends, your partner, and Judaism is typically welcome.
If there’s one thing I learned every summer at Jewish sleep-away camp, it’s that Shabbat is separate from the rest of the week. On Saturday night, when Shabbat is over and the first three stars appear in the sky, a new week begins and another chance to experience life to its fullest is in your hands. The wedding day is also the start of a new life with your partner so welcoming the Sabbath Bride a couple days before you are the bride will be special and forever memorable.