The heady and air-conditioning-laden (if you’re lucky and so inclined) days of August are dismissed by some as for the dog and deemed by others as best suited for hot dogs and barbecue fare. With National Hot Dog day behind us (July 23) and more than a month of summer ahead of us, Shabbat poses an excellent opportunity to up your picnic game. And at the very least, to move your Friday night meal outdoors.
A casual collective meal may involve a fancy wicker basket, a checkered tablecloth, a picnic-specific knapsack or a wine bottle holder that affixes to your bike. You can plop down on a patch of grass on the Mall, a stoop or on the bonny or banal banks of the Potomac. Whether your picnic venue be a local bench or part of an open-air event, the main ingredients are the same: people, food, drink and time (no rushing!).
An Air of Joy
The most important amenity you can bring to your outdoor feast, no matter the size or level of advanced planning, is ruach, Hebrew for spirit and also for wind. With any luck, you’ll benefit from some cooling breezes, and perhaps you’ll choose to move the molecules around you by introducing a tune. If you want to go the traditional route, bring along song sheets for Lecha Dodi or Shalom Aleichem. Or perhaps you’d prefer to be inspired by your locale or the events of the week gone by. Consider asking your guests to bring instruments or to use nearby objects to make music. A rock or twigs can make for a makeshift drum kit, and anyone who can coax sound from a blade of grass deserves to wet their whistle.
Wine, People and Song
Keep it low key. It’s been a long week. Pick a spot. Put together your invite list and focus on getting outside. Cook in advance or create a potluck sign up. Or, if you end up with a last-minute “let’s just meet in the park” gathering, grab what’s in your fridge and go. To distinguish this Shabbat picnic from any old picnic, add challah, some grape juice or a bubbly beverage (seltzer or a non-alcoholic sparkling juice are legally allowed in public places, not so with alcoholic beverages, but perhaps your picnic takes place in a backyard or private space). Don’t forget a blanket, plates, cups, utensils, napkins and a bottle opener if wine is allowed (see below for picnic supplies).
Welcoming Guest and the Sabbath Bride
The Jewish tradition puts great value on welcoming guests. Though you may not have a tent as Abraham did, you can still honor those in your presence by introducing them to others, anticipating their needs and providing an extra flourish like a sweet treat or embroidered napkin.
Top photo courtesy of Anabelle Kaplan.