The primary reason for attending shul on Shabbos morning is to pray to God in a communal setting. Quite often, however, a Kiddush, sometimes rather elaborate and lavish, is held following services, which enhances the shul experience for many. The Kiddush can serve as a great venue to enable the communal participants to socialize with each other, build community spirit, and relate to one another after they have prayed and related to God.
The literal definition of the word “Kiddush” is “sanctification,” and it technically refers to the declaration that describes the sanctification of Shabbos (or Yom Tov); this declaration is usually made over a cup of wine or grape juice both on Friday night and on Shabbos morning prior to the start of the meal. Colloquially, the term Kiddush also refers to the refreshments served in the home and/or in the shul following the morning services.
The tradition of having or “making” a public Kiddush on Shabbos morning to mark a special event goes back many years. In Europe, I am told, a traditional Kiddush typically consisted of some kichel, herring, crackers, and a bottle of schnapps (liquor). My father-in-law once related to me that the above constituted the complete menu that was served at his Bar Mitzvah. After he read from the Torah and received his first aliyah as a ritually adult male, his parents celebrated this momentous occasion by serving herring, crackers, and so on to the guests in attendance.
Today, in most circles, even a relatively modest Kiddush consists of chulent with kishka, potato kugel, an assortment of cakes and/or cookies, perhaps some fruit, soda, wine, liquor, and maybe more. The fancier Kiddushim may include such delicacies as steak bits, meatballs, mini hot dogs, sesame fried or grilled chicken, cold cuts, chopped liver, stuffed cabbage, and the like. The above, of course, describes the offerings available in Ashkenazic synagogues; Sephardim serve their own traditional foods, though there is certainly plenty of overlap.
I must admit that I personally do not usually partake of the food at a Kiddush, as most of these items generally do not appeal to me and because I don’t like to eat standing up. I do, however, appreciate how much this type of food does indeed appeal to most people (including the members of my family!). Indeed, the evidence speaks for itself; at the end of most Kiddushim that I have been to, a majority of the food has been consumed. And after the Kiddush is over, most of the participants then go home or to a friend’s home and partake–or at least try to partake–of a sumptuous five-to-seven-course lunch, which the cook has worked hard to prepare.
As I’ve stated, I definitely understand how attractive the “food fest” I have just described is for many people. Without trying to be a “party pooper,” though, I must note that according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than one third of the adults in the United States are currently obese. Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. The Jewish community unfortunately is not immune to these illnesses and does not stand out as an exception to the national statistics.
The tradition of a public Kiddush is a beautiful one. After praying together, we eat together, enjoy each other’s company, argue or agree about synagogue/world politics, and for a few minutes, share our lives with each other. But in light of the above data, perhaps the time has come to consider our individual and communal physical health as well and, at least on occasion, find a way to present a Kiddush in shul that is not quite as unhealthy. We do not need to add to the CDC’s data on obesity by regularly promoting communal overeating.
As part of my ongoing quest to create a healthy environment both in my own home and in the larger community, I suggested to my husband a few months ago that we sponsor a “healthy Kiddush” in our shul, Congregation Zichron Mordechai of Teaneck. While my husband was somewhat skeptical about how the congregants would react to such a Kiddush, and my children feared that I would quickly become rather unpopular, my extremely good-natured and supportive family went along with the idea. The menu consisted of sushi, both fish and vegetarian, in white and brown rice, a vegetable crudite with hummus, matbucha, and guacamole dips, fruit kabobs, rice chips, bottled water, seltzer, green tea, wine, and some schnapps. As there is a halachic requirement to have some “mezonos” at a Kiddush, we also served high-fiber biscotti along with some rugelach–one per person!
To the surprise of some, the overall response I received from the members of the shul was overwhelmingly positive–so much so, in fact, that we recently co-sponsored another Kiddush with friends from the shul and they were willing to join us and host another “healthy” Kiddush. One of the male members of the shul told me that while he liked what he ate, this was one of the first times he was ever leaving a Kiddush without feeling “stuffed” and would thus be able to more fully enjoy his Shabbos meal at home with his family. A number of the women commented that this was the first time they ever really ate anything at a Kiddush! So at least in our shul, the reviews are in. It is possible to have a communal Kiddush that everyone will be pleased with and yet avoid overindulging in many fundamentally unhealthy foods.
Try it once in a while in your shul–you may be surprised at the response.
Beth S. (Bassie) Taubes, RN, OCN, CBCN, Certified Health Coach, served as an oncology nurse and clinical manager for 30 years. She recently founded Wellness Wisdom, where she motivates clients to engage in improved self-care through healthy eating, healthy movement, and healthy sleep. She can be reached at [email protected] or via web site: btwellnesswisdom.com.
By Beth S. Taubes