Just Host It


It’s been about a year and a half since I hosted my first Shabbat dinner.  While I can’t remember exactly who came or what I served, I distinctly remember how freaked out I was about it!  Would there be enough food?  How could I possibly find time to cook – and bake challah! - for all those people, while getting my work done?  Would it be possible to accomodate my non-Jewish friends and help them feel comfortable around all the ritual-stuff?  How should I respond when people ask me if they can invite last-minute guests (which they invariably do)? 

Looking back, I now realize that Shabbat dinners kind of host themselves.  They take a bit of planning and forethought, but once you get the ball rolling, they somehow just kind of flow.  And miraculously, there always seems to be enough to eat and enough places to sit, despite the last minute add-ons.  Still, I wish I’d had Tamar Fox’s great Shabbat hosting guidelines back on that crazy Friday afternoon a year and a half ago – before I knew it was all going to be okay. 

Shabbat Made Easy Totally Manageable
Tamar Fox – Jewcy Contributor
(I’ve made a few additions – in parentheses – to Tamar’s original list.)

Sunday-Tuesday: Invite guests. Eight is the ideal number for one raucous conversation, and ideally you want to keep the ratio of guys to girls fairly even, but there’s no hard and fast rules here. Remember to ask your guests if they have any food allergies (or other dietary needs).

: Plan menu.  (Good resources for recipe inspiration: 101 Cookbooks, Epicurious). You know your own limitations in the kitchen, but a nice baseline standard is challah, a soup or appetizer, a main course, a vegetable, a starch and a dessert.  (If you feel like you just can’t do it all, outsource!  You can either go full-scale potluck, or ask friends to take on specific dishes.  Also, requesting that friends bring a bottle of wine, hummus, or ice cream is completely appropriate.)

Wednesday: Make a shopping list based on the menu you’ve planned.

: Shop. Don’t forget Shabbat candles and a bottle of wine. On Thursday night prepare at least two of the items on your menu so that Friday isn’t so crazy. If you buy challah and make a soup that can just be thrown in the crock pot and/or buy dessert, you’re not looking at much cooking at all.   (If you’re nervous about the ritual stuff, ask one of your more Jewishly-literate friends in advance to help you lead Shalom Aleichem, kiddush, etc.  Encourage them to prepare a sentence or two of framing – both to explain why you’re doing these blessings/what they mean, and also to help set the tone.  If you wait until the night-of to ask for help, you risk getting “nos” from friends who feel unprepared or a bit camera shy.)

Friday: Finish cooking. Make sure you’ve got candlesticks and a challah cover. You also probably want a siddur to consult for Kiddush, hand washing and motzi. And possibly those little booklets (bentchers) with grace after the meal in them. If you plan wisely, you can cook for as little as an hour and a half on Friday and still have a plenty elaborate meal for your friends. If people bring a dish, you’re down even more work.  (If you have a lot of friends who don’t know each other – facilitate an opening circle.  They may sound cheesy, but it’s the best way to get a disparate group of people to feel like they’ve been friends for years.  A few great questions: ”Say your name and what you were likely doing on this night in 1994,” or “Say your name, and your favorite memory of the host/hostess)  :)  

Here’s a checklist of essential items to make sure you have ahead of time:
Challah and Challah Cover
Candles and Candlesticks
Wine and Kiddush Cup (Bonus points for buying a bottle from The Jew & The Carrot’s Kosher Organic Wine List.)
Siddur and bentchers

It’s really not that hard, and Shabbat dinner (both the delicious leftovers and memories of a fun evening) can pretty much carry you through until next week.

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8 Responses to “Just Host It”

  1. Diana Says:

    Hi Leah,

    How far in advance can you make the challah?



  2. Leah Koenig Says:

    Hi Diana,

    Challah is best really fresh (for all the oil and eggs, it dries out really quickly).

    If I know I’m going to be in a rush on Friday, I’ll make the dough Thursday night and do the “first rise” in the fridge. The next morning I put it out on my counter in the morning and do the punch down, braid and second rise, after work. Then I pop it into the oven about 40 minutes before Shabbat and/or when my guests arrive. (bake time varies widely depending on the recipe).

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