I recently had one of my favourite kinds of Shabbos afternoons.
It was a jam-packed Shabbos. Shul in the morning, sheva brachos at another shul, lunch at friends, and a Seudat Shlishi at another friend’s house later in the afternoon.
I was a bit concerned about my kids coping with being out all day, but I shouldn’t have even worried.
After a long morning, first at our shul, than a neighbouring shul for sheva brachos, we headed out for lunch. It was myself and another friend, both of our husbands staying behind at sheva brachos, and an assorted range of children, mostly ours, but also some friends’ children who had joined our little tribe, walking with prams laden with changes of clothing and nappy bags, and food for no reason at all, just in case of some sort of emergency.
We arrived with kids moaning about the long walk. Our friends had just begun their meal, as we had told them not to wait.
The kids miraculously recovered from the strenuous journey of a 10-minute walk and immediately scattered and found friends to play with.
The kitchen table was piled with food, salads, cholent and schnitzel… and some more salads. There was an enormous amount of food and loads of kids of all ages. I sat down at the dining room table full of guests, laughing and catching up. That’s pretty much how I spent the rest of the day.
Every so often, there was a knock at the door, with more people arriving for lunch, or later on for dessert, or just to hang out. Some people around the table were singing songs. People were strewn on the chairs in the lounge, catching a nice Shabbos schloff.
There were babies and toddlers in prams, parents hopefully pushing them around the house for their afternoon sleeps.
Some people were on the couch in the kitchen, talking, laughing, and reading books to various children.
All over the house were vases of flowers, many brought over on Friday by the various Shabbos guests.
Through it all, children were racing around, on bikes, playing cards and hide and seek, inside, on the patio and in the garden. They would appear for some food or a drink, or some mediation in an argument. Upstairs, the playroom was an explosion of toys and kids. They all seemed to know what was going on, although I could barely find my own children in the chaos. Little girls giggling on the stairs, pre-teen boys playing cards on the lounge floor, and always someone in the bathroom.
We cleared the dining table and then cleared it again, made plates for this child and that one, brought out dessert and poured drinks. We watched cups spill and kids trip, and babies cry and changed shorts and nappies, helped kids to the bathroom. The noise level was pretty high, and I was impressed by those sleeping through it.
But, above it all was the sound of laughter and conversation. I met new faces and a friend of my sister. I was introduced to someone who spent two years in my hometown but now lives in Europe. There were people from all over the world, old friends and strangers. A mother with a crying newborn. A father balancing a toddler on his lap, gleefully banging on the table to the tune of the Shabbos niggun.
I wandered into the kitchen at some point, and saw the friend I had arrived with. “I thought you had left,” I said in surprise. “I haven’t seen you in ages.”
“Do you think I would leave without saying goodbye?” she asked, laughing. “I was talking in the kitchen.”
It felt like a million people were at this Shabbos meal. Truthfully, it was probably about 40 people, maybe more if you count the babies.
It wasn’t a quiet, elegant meal with one discussion at the table. It was an explosion of sensations. A noisy, chaotic afternoon of food, conversation, people, laughter, and through it all, that once a week feeling we call Shabbos.