I serve chicken soup every Friday night.
Okay. Maybe not every Friday night, but almost.
During the rest of the week, I love making all types of soup: chunky vegetable, spicy lentil, and creamy zucchini soup. I can eat soup 365 days a year.
But come Shabbat, I am a traditionalist.
My mother serves chicken soup every Friday night in Seattle. My grandmother in Brooklyn served chicken soup every Friday night. In fact, she used to serve pieces of this incredible pan-fried salty noodle kugel inside the soup.
Just writing these words, I can picture myself, seven years old, sitting at her beautiful dining room table, eating that kugel, staring at the painting of my great-grandfather on the wall.
And no matter where I am in the world, when I have a bowl of chicken soup, I can close my eyes and I am transported a thousand miles away to the Shabbat table of my youth, at my parents’ home.
I can hear my father singing: “Asader Lesudasa”, a traditional Chassidic song for Friday night, in a unique tune that I have never heard any other family use.
I’m pretty sure my father only sang that song during soup course. He would wave away the soup bowl, telling us to serve someone else… he was singing.
Maybe that’s why I always make chicken soup for Friday night. Someday, when my kids are grown and living a million miles away from home, or hopefully in the house next door to mine, if they serve chicken soup on a Friday night, I hope they will think of our Shabbat table.
I hope they can close their eyes, and see themselves as children in my dining room, answering parsha questions, fighting over who gets to sit where, and spilling soup and drinks.
I know that my strawberry spinach salad is probably nothing like the coleslaw my grandmother served, and the hummus with zaatar that I serve alongside my challah, while it might be a popular Israeli food, was probably not something my great-grandmother served in in her home in Warsaw.
I can’t say that my Shabbat meal is exactly like my parents’ or grandparents’ meals, but the essential elements are there: Kiddush, challah, chicken soup, overtired kids spilling drinks, parsha questions, all in the glow of the Shabbat candles.
The sushi salad with sriracha sauce might be the association my kids make with Shabbat. I can imagine them talking about it in 50 years: “Bubby always served it in Seattle, and mommy always made it, and Elana served it when we visited our cousins in California… sushi salad just tastes like Shabbat!”
Judaism knows how powerful our senses are, how certain tastes and smells can transport us to another time and place. It’s not incidental that all our special occasions, including Shabbat, are marked with special meals, reminding us of our past history.
As for me, chicken soup will always taste like Shabbat.