Months ago I had an idea for a themed Shabbat dinner: I would invite all of my friends from Commonwealth countries, and have a Queen’s Shabbat. I could serve Commonwealth inspired foods, and it would be a fun night to hang out with friends from all over the world. Since I host Shabbat meals all the time, the idea didn’t seem particularly daunting, but I never seemed to get around to setting a date and sending out an invitation.
Right before Pesach I met with Rabbi Yoni Sherizen, who runs the Jewish chaplaincy programs in the UK. Jewish chaplains (usually a married couple) are sent to live in a college town or on a university campus in order to help provide Jewish services to students at the local university. It’s a lot like Chabad, but without the rebbe, and it’s especially important in the UK, where there have been crazy amounts of anti-Semitism on college campuses.
Yoni and his wife Dalia were incredibly helpful to me when I was at Oxford in 2004, and I was concerned about how dire Yoni told me the situation was in so many British universities. Plus, the falling economy has meant a lot of funders have had to cut back, and some universities are in danger of losing their Jewish chaplains.
At that point I decided I’d set a date for my Commonwealth Shabbat, and ask everyone to donate to the chaplaincy programs instead of bringing a bottle of wine or doing any cooking.
So I went about inviting my friends, and suddenly realized that I know a lot of people from Commonwealths. Originally, not that many people responded. It seemed like it would be a smallish group. But then suddenly everyone was bringing friends, and it looked like my small Upper West Side apartment was going to have to hold more than twenty guests! Eek! Plus, that meant a lot of cooking. And I really wanted to use as much local and organic produce as possible, which would also probably be expensive. And once I really started looking, I couldn’t find many Commonwealth themed foods that weren’t really meaty. I realized I didn’t even have twenty plates, and would never be able to bring myself to serve on paper.