Facebook Post by Rabbi Perlin in the Time of Coronavirus (5/3/2020)

Sunday Post  5.3.20:  In Praise of the Family Dinner

by Rabbi Amy R. Perlin, D.D.

Households across America are cooking more than ever before.  For some of us, that is the way we live, but for most it is a new and sometimes challenging phenomenon.  In households of one or two, without little children, adults ask themselves, “What’s for dinner?” But, something else is happening in households with children, and I think it is a good thing.

The question is no longer, “Do we have time to have dinner together tonight?”  The question for many parents is, “How can we make dinner tonight, after a long day together, something special?”  And for some weary parents, the answers include cooking together, baking together, longer dinner table conversations, and even cleaning up together.

I marvel at my grandchildren who have come to expect the theme evenings that used to be just once a month at their house where they learned about different countries.  Now, multiple times a week, they travel to different lands and cultures through their food experience.  They visit places in their imaginations that even I have never been, as they try foods from countries in South America, Asia, and Europe.

And my heart fills up, when during Shabbat “thankful-fors” our two-and-half year old granddaughter thanks her father for cooking dinner.  There is a real appreciation that food just doesn’t come from a delivery person.  It took time, planning, and great effort securing the food to make the meal happen.  Another granddaughter is thankful for the extra time she gets to spend with Mommy and Daddy.  And Daddy is grateful for all of Mommy’s efforts to get the food to the house.  These family dinners are sparkling highlights of this pandemic isolation.

Yes, there are households worried about where the next meal will come from and we must be vigilant and tireless in doing our part to help them. There are those, at home alone and lonely, and we must do what we can to reach out and connect to friends and loved ones.  But, that doesn’t diminish these special moments at the family table that so often don’t happen because of activities and work schedules.  Parents are rethinking how their children will spend dinner time hours, and I encourage employers to see the value in being home for family dinner, in a world where most people stopped working a 40-hour week a long time ago.

Family dinner is the one part of the 1950’s we should bring back.  Years ago, there was a study that the only thing Merit Scholarship winners had in common was the fact that they all seemed to have dinner with their families at least three times a week.  We have seen that there is great learning to be had outside the classroom and I am glad that parents are finding that talking, really conversing, with your children– even the youngest ones – has great benefit for them and for you.

We had two of our grandchildren living with us in February for two weeks.  One of the things I looked forward to were our family dinners each night.  I would pick a topic for discussion. They were only five and seven, but we discussed the importance of voting, how taxes work, immigration, for President’s Day we talked about what qualities Washington and Lincoln brought to the presidency, we talked about climate change, and a host of other topics.  As some households have theme dinners, we had theme dinner discussions.  When my grandson would ask what our topic was, I was so happy to see that it became an expectation.

What new expectations are you experiencing around the dinner table at your house?  What blessings has your family had during family dinners.  As we are deep into the second month and weary of the cooking and cleaning, and the worry of securing food, how can you take the good parts of family dinners and sustain them when the mandatory isolation lifts?

We don’t eat fishsticks anymore…we are having English dinner instead. And we have had Korean dinner, Italian dinner, Israeli dinner, and last night we had “breakfast for dinner.”  Something good is happening at our family tables.  Isn’t it nice to celebrate something good right now?