Hamptons Soul: Family Dinner

Family dinner at the table
Family dinner is important
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Father Constantine Lazarakis of the Greek Orthodox Congregation, and Jewish Center of the Hamptons Rabbi Josh Franklin explain the spiritual and practical benefits of sitting down to a family dinner.

Father Constantine Lazarakis

Summer is done! Kids are back in school, our cell phones are working again, and the traffic on the East End (save the trade parade) is a little bit lighter. It’s time to get back into our routines and try to establish structure, not only for the kids, but for all of us. As wonderful as summer has been, there is some relief in the predictability of fall in the Hamptons.

As we get into routine school and more regular work hours, it behooves us to try to create time for real and personal interaction with the people who are most important to us. One of the best ways to do this is an age-old but, I am afraid, waning tradition: the family dinner.

There is something inherently social and spiritually nourishing about breaking bread with those we love. Physical sustenance is a universal human need, and when we gather around a table to fill that need, we are, on a very deep level, reminded of our universal humanity. Breaking bread together makes us more conscious of what we have in common and allows us to celebrate our commonality in spite of our differences.

With our phones constantly buzzing and pulling our eyes downward, with prepackaged junk food always within reach, and with a frenzied bent to fit more and more into our waking hours, our lives are becoming incrementally structured toward isolation. Establishing family dinner as a pillar of your family’s routine can combat this trend toward isolation.

It is a spiritually nourishing practice that doesn’t require much in the way of intentional religious or spiritual practice. The simple act of making time to sit at the table, look in one another’s eyes and partake of God’s blessings, brings us closer together, while satisfying our souls.

This fall, rediscover, and insist upon family dinner.

Rabbi Josh Franklin

Every Friday night, my family sits down for a Shabbat dinner. Jewish tradition marks Shabbat evening with a special meal complete with rituals and foods that connect everyone at the table to each other, and to richness of our Jewish heritage. The prophet Isaiah calls us to “make Shabbat a delight (Isaiah 58:13),” as it is meant to be a blessing for us to appreciate, not an obligatory chore.

We invite friends and family to our table, who join in lighting Shabbat candles, blessing our children, blessing the day with a sacred toast over wine (kiddish) and eating challah, which my wife bakes fresh every week. Our Shabbat dinner is our most sacred family ritual. Growing up, my parents made sure that this took priority over whatever else was going on in our lives, and my wife and I have set this expectation for our family,
as well.

Shabbat dinner is elevated from our typical weeknight dinner. With a toddler and a first grader, we struggle to coordinate eating the same thing at the same time. Our daughters’ typical weekday menu items include mac and cheese, chicken nuggets and chili. But when Shabbat rolls around, we spend time Friday afternoon preparing something special and setting the table with flowers and our fine china. We always eat together when it’s Shabbat. One of our family rituals is to share our favorite part of the week with each other. No one is exempted from this ritual, as we value always being able to find blessing in life, no matter what crazy thing might be going on around us.

Family therapists will point to numerous studies that suggest that family dinners are a powerful predictor of high achievement scores and academic performance. Other studies note that family dinners encourage more healthy eating habits. But the most crucial benefit of a family dinner like a Shabbat dinner, is that it brings joy to our lives and brings us closer together with the people who matter most to us.

Whether you’re Jewish or not, try creating your own weekly Shabbat dinner. Cook something special, invite your friends and family, fill the evening with sacred rituals and watch how the experience will magically unfold.

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