The Sabbath Lunch Savior

When it comes to Shabbat, I’m more of a lunch/nap Jew than a pray/sermon Jew.

I’m not anti-synagogue—some of my best friends are Jewish— but by the time Saturday rolls around, the place I most want to be is home.  I spend my waking, working hours deep up the business of the Jewish community.  When I walk into a synagogue, I get comments about The Journal, complaints, intense discussions on Israel and Obama—exactly what I get in the office. Isn’t Shabbat a day of rest?

My wife, the rabbi, she goes to shul.  She loves to go to shul.  And I know she wishes I would go with her.  I know this because she tells me. No one likes to be a “shul widow.”

Once in a while, I go.  And when I do, when I’m actually there, meeting people, praying, reading the Torah portion and the commentaries,  hearing my wife beside me sing—I like it all.

It’s just that, most Saturdays, I prefer our backyard.

All this could be a source of tension—she’s in shul, he’s at home.  She’s up and out early, he’s walking the dogs.  But over the years, we’ve found a solution that splits the difference in our desires.

It’s called Sabbath lunch.

You won’t find a great deal of written law or custom about the Sabbath lunch in the ancient texts.  But it’s a beautiful thing.  Spiritual in the way a great meal with people you love can be spiritual.  Religious in the way it brings the spirit of Shabbat into your home.  In our home, it’s a savior: a way for us to celebrate the Sabbath together, even when one of us—me—prefers not to spend the morning in shul.

So, like most things religious in our home, we’ve flipped the traditional roles.  The woman rabbi is off to shul, the man is home getting lunch ready.  I’m fine with that.

Because Jewish law prohibits cooking on the Sabbath,  a Sabbath lunch is actually easy.  In the cold months you make cholent the day before and place it in a low oven. That and salad and challah and you’re good to go.

But this time of year, the long, warm, lazy afternoons—that’s when a Sabbath lunch can really lift you higher.

These days, I make cedar planked wild salmon the day before and keep it in the refrigerator.  When Naomi comes home from synagogue, lunch is ready.  We eat on our picnic table under our giant ficus tree, in dappled sunlight. The goats and chickens off in the side yard provide the appropriate shtetl soundtrack. 

As long as there is $7.99 wild Alaskan salmon at Costco, the menu is simple: The salmon, a tomato, basil and mozzerella salad, a salad with fresh uncooked corn, arugula, fennel and avocado, cherries.

(The treat this week is olive oil we picked up at Ojai Olive Oil Company.  We stopped by the farm in Ojai, got a tour from the co-owner Alice Asquith, and tasted all their varieties.  The place is lovely and the oils are superb.)

Our kids come to the table.  It’s hard to get them to shul by 10, easy to get them to lunch by 1. Nomi blesses the wine and challah.  We eat and talk. 

Then it’s nap time.

Shabbat lunch. Like I said, it’s a religious experience.


Cedar Planked Salmon

Serves 4

1 /3/4- 2 pounds fresh wild salmon, cut into 4 portions

2 untreated cedar planks (available at Whole Foods or lumber yard)


Salt, Pepper, olive oil

Heat gas grill to high, or make a hot fire.  Soak planks in cold water at least ½ hour, preferably 1 or 2. 

Salt and pepper salmon fillets, brush with oil. Place on planks.

Place planked salmon skin side down on grill. Reduce flame to low, or push coals to side of grill. Cover.  Grill until just barely cooked through, about 7 minutes. No need to turn.

Test for doneness. Let cool, the cover and refrigerate.

Serve cold or room temperature with lemon slices.