Regardless of how religiously observant they are, for most Jewish families, Aruchat Shabbat, the Friday night dinner, is the most important meal of the week, a time to come together, share good food (and wine), bless children and welcome in the day of rest.
That feeling of togetherness is something playwright Jessica Bellamy seeks to recreate in Shabbat Dinner, a theatrical event devoted to the sharing of food and stories.
“One of the main reasons I wrote this play was to recreate that sense of community that is part of the Shabbat ritual,” Bellamy explains. “I love the kind of theatre that is about people coming together and sharing an emotional experience.”
First performed during the Bondi Feast festival in 2013, Shabbat Dinner invites its audience to a fully laid table to share in a meal inspired by the recipes of Bellamy’s late grandmother. Narrative and meal unfold as one.
Though it is designed to be an intimate event, everyone in the audience is free to set their own comfort level when engaging with it, Bellamy explains. “You are invited to the table but you are not expected to do anything. If you know the songs, you are welcome to sing along. It’s the same as a real Shabbat dinner. You don’t have to play a major role, you can just enjoy being with a group of people and feeling that sense of relaxation, belonging and community – all the things we don’t foster as much as we should in day-to-day life.”
Cooking for the audience is no small feat for Bellamy, who brings her “modern vegetarian sensibility” to her grandmother’s traditional recipes. “I go shopping in the morning, cook all afternoon and then perform in the evening,” Bellamy says. “It’s a full day.”
The lack of any kitchen facilities in the pop-up venue means Bellamy has to cook off-site. “I find it exciting that all the mechanisms usually present in an existing theatre space aren’t there,” she says. “But the downside is that I need to find a kitchen, make a massive pot of borscht and then put it in the back of a taxi.”
This is an edited version of a story that originally appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.