Nights of the Round Table

by Zehorit Heilicher, Tastemaker in Residence

Shabbat Dinner Table (with our dog Lilly)

Shabbat Dinner Table (with our dog Lilly)

“She touched me!” “He’s looking at me!” “Yuck! I hate Brussels sprouts!” Ahh, you guessed it – the joys of the dinner table… So, why have I submitted myself night after night, week after week and yes, year after year – to gathering around the table as a family 4-5 nights a week?  

As an immigrant, longing for my family led me to create for my kids an environment similar to the one of my childhood.; laughter, stories, in-depth talks and all around silliness accompanied by wholesome food made with attention and love. Yes, I know, I was VERY fortunate in that, plus fortunate to be able to stay home to raise my four kids and follow my own mother’s example. 

On a quest to expose our family to flavors, textures and colors, I was inspired by the seasons to create nutritious, colorful and flavorful meals. However, that was just the canvas for parenting moments in our family’s experience. All that our kids needed to learn about life – you got it – they learned around the table. Traditions, religious customs, manners, empathy, equality, chores and conversational skills were all demonstrated and practiced on a regular basis at every meal; weekdays, Shabbat and holidays.

In a recent conversation between my 19 and 16 year old daughters I heard them say that the dinner table was where they connected as siblings into the family circle. Just recently, they planned with their 22 and 25 year old sister and brother, on their own accord, a “Sibling Reunion Weekend” and spent a long weekend – that’s right – connecting. Pretty good for 4 siblings with a span of 9 years age difference…

Here are my top 5-dinnertime “Must Be Mastered” skills for life:

  1. Eyes Open – Participate with your eyes - notice what needs to be done: table to be set, water glasses filled, trivets laid on table. Then at the end of the meal: clear your own plate and assist with clearing the table and loading the dishwasher.
  2. Mouth Closed – An exercise in manners: chew with your mouth closed, do not speak with food in your mouth, exercise restraint and patience in a discussion, listen to others and speak politely.
  3. Hands outstretched – Connect with your family: offer compassion and support, or constructive and GENTLE criticism when needed. Share of yourself and your life: your experiences, emotion and your questions and wonder too. 
  4. Curiosity Engaged – try new foods, be open to new flavors, new experiences and novel and foreign ideas. Do not be close-minded.
  5. Body, Mind and Soul Present – “Show up” for the experience by avoiding interferences with the interaction: no cell phones allowed, ignore phone calls, start at a time most convenient to all and end at an appropriate hour considering the ages and the responsibilities of all who are seated at the table. Be present to experience, absorb and contribute.