February 21, 2020

Welcoming the World to Her Shabbat Dinners

Miriam Gabay says she’s “not quite 100 percent Orthodox,” but she invites up to a dozen guests each week to her Miracle Mile-area Shabbat dinners, during which she gives a brief presentation on the weekly Torah portion.

Gabay, 63, was born in Casablanca, Morocco, to a father in the French army and a homemaker mother. She grew up speaking Arabic, French, Spanish, Hebrew and English.

When she was 5, her family snuck out of Casablanca in the middle of the night and moved to Israel by way of Marseille, France. The stealth escape was necessary because at that time the Moroccan government didn’t allow Jews to leave the country. The family settled in Tzfat, the small, spiritual city in the north of Israel.

Gabay received a bachelor’s degree in education and anthropology from Bar-Ilan University and worked as an administrator in Tzfat’s three large libraries. She married and had five children.

In 2005, at the age of 50, the now-divorced Gabay moved to Brooklyn with her youngest child, 13-year-old Davidel. In 2011, she relocated to Los Angeles and now teaches Hebrew and Jewish studies at the Etz Jacob and Baba Sale congregations in the Fairfax District.

“I would have 80 people over for Shabbat at my house in Israel. My parents’ home was always filled with Shabbat guests.” — Miriam Gabay

However, when she first arrived in Los Angeles, she said was very uncomfortable and lonely. “I didn’t know what to do with myself,” she said. “I felt lost. No one seemed to care. This was especially painful during the Jewish holidays. Finally, I said, ‘Enough is enough.’ ”

It was at that point Gabay started inviting people she met at synagogue to her home for Shabbat dinner. Many of those she reached out to were also new to L.A.

News of Gabay’s open-door Shabbat policy spread quickly, and a friend who belonged to Chabad made her a Beit Chabad sign and put it on her condo door, signaling Gabay’s willingness to welcome even more people into her home.

Hosting large numbers of Shabbat guests doesn’t faze her. “I would have 80 people over for Shabbat at my house in Israel,” she said. “My parents’ home was always filled with Shabbat guests. It was like my mom adopted half the neighborhood.”

Today, Jews from around the world regularly attend her dinners, including people from Israel, Russia, France, Dubai and Africa. Gabay considers them her second family. “I love everybody who comes to my place,” she said. “I’m no longer feeling lonely.”

Gabay’s philosophy in life is to give to others. “I’m not an unusual woman. I’m a very simple woman.” she said. “Still, I’m not an angel or a perfect woman. I just try my best.”

Mark Miller is a humorist, stand-up comic and has written for various sitcoms. His first book is “500 Dates: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Online Dating Wars.”