Eating and thinking

Eating and thinking

Rabbi Gabriel Botnick on a new Shabbat feature at Belsize Square

If you take a moment to consider some of your most powerful Jewish memories, chances are they involve food: Shabbat and holiday meals with loved ones, B’nei Mitzvah celebrations, even sitting shiva. And though we fast on Yom Kippur, one could argue that the absence of food, followed by the breaking of the fast, plays a large role in defining the holiday.

The fact is that food is central to the Jewish experience. In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Ancestors), Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya famously stated: Im ein kemach, ein Torah or ‘Without sustenance, there is no Torah.’ By this he means that people are unable to focus on their learning if they are not properly fed – and that is precisely what we intend to do at Belsize: feed you.

Starting in June, once a month, we will be offering an expanded kiddush that will include not only a proper sit-down lunch, but also a chance to do some learning. You’ll be invited to hang out at the regular kiddush for a while and then make your way to another space where you’ll be able to load your plate with delicious fare to enjoy while you sit and shmooze with others. Before we start our learning, Cantor Heller will lead us in a song or two, followed by Birkat Hamazon.

And then we will begin our learning. Initially, this will focus on deepening our understanding of central symbols and objects within Judaism – often relating to any upcoming holidays. You might learn some secrets about how a Torah is made, or why we dress it in such fancy garb. Or maybe you’ll discover what makes a shofar or mezuzah kosher, or how far you can push the boundaries of design on any given ritual object. There’s so much to uncover and we’ll do just that over lunch one Shabbat per month.

Now, you might be curious to learn about these topics, but perhaps coming to services isn’t really your thing. That’s okay! While we would love you to join us for services, there is no expectation for you to do so. You’re more than welcome to come to shul around midday and join us for lunch and learning. Just being with the community on Shabbat is what we’re hoping for.

And if you can’t make it at all on Shabbat, no worries – we will be resuming the release of my Taste of Torah videos on the shul website and You Tube channel, in which I’ll give a brief overview of the topic we’ll be discussing that Shabbat. While these videos will certainly be informative, the deep learning will only be available to those who attend in person on Shabbat.

I have a few goals with this initiative. First of all, I want to share some of the learning that makes Judaism so exciting – not only in a theoretical sense, but on a truly practical level, which is why we’ll be focusing on ritual objects that we use all the time. I also want to help you find ways to connect with Shabbat. If attending services hasn’t been doing that for you, maybe eating and learning will. And finally, I’m hoping this new initiative will help strengthen our sense of community. So often, we come to synagogue and only chat with the people we know, if anyone at all. By taking time to enjoy a meal together and engage in great conversation, we can all deepen our connections with the community.

So I hope you will consider joining me and Cantor Heller on 10 June as we launch this new programme. Subsequent sessions will take place on 8 July and 9 September. I look forward to lunching and learning with you soon!