Every Friday night at sundown (or thereabouts), Jewish families all over the world celebrate the arrival of Shabbat, the Sabbath day of rest.
Lights are kindled, prayers are said, wine is drunk, challah (the traditional egg bread) is broken, and dinner begins. It’s a custom shared by millions, connecting past and present.
Yet amongst all this tradition, there’s room for creativity and interpretation. Enter Highland Park artist/cartoonist Sharon Rosenzweig and her husband, Aaron Freeman, the well-known comedian, author and radio personality.
Freeman converted to Judaism more than 20 years ago, and latched onto the tradition of Friday night dinners. Rosenzweig joined in the fun when they married in 2004. The story of the Torah comes alive at their table, with the week’s “parsha” (portion) becoming the theme for the dinner itself. They have had as many as 25 guests, but generally keep the weekly dinner to a more manageable 12. It’s a coveted invitation on the North Shore.
“We tell our guests to try to imagine themselves into the story,” Freeman says with a chuckle.
“Aaron always finds a way to incorporate all the dishes into that week’s parsha, even if it’s a bit of a stretch. He makes it all fit, somehow,” Rosenzweig adds.
As you can imagine, hilarity ensues. But so does discussion and spirited debate. “We talk about the Torah portion through the lens of the food,” Freeman says. And Rosenzweig sets the tone with her challahs, sculpted to fit the theme.
It can be a challenge to make something routine—even a ritual as important as Shabbat—into a family-friendly event that will keep the children engaged. That’s why Evanston maven Emily Nidenberg has organized a “Gaming Shabbat,” where a bunch of families gather at her home for a potluck dinner and board games afterward.
“It’s a communal experience; we do it a few times a year,” Nidenberg explains.
For her family, it’s often an international affair: They’ve hosted exchange students from around the world, most recently from China. “We make an effort to integrate the home customs and ethos of our exchange students into our own celebrations,” she says.
“But I’d really love to get invited to Aaron Freeman’s,” she exclaims. “Now there’s a Shabbat!” Aaron and Sharon, consider yourselves notified.
For more info visit thecomictorah.com, a website that details their “reimagining of the Very Good Book” as a graphic novel, written by Freeman and illustrated by Rosenzweig.