The Memory Dinner A
welcome “Many of our most pungent memories are carried through food, just as connections to our ancestors are reaffirmed by cooking the dishes handed down to us.” — Michael Twitty
The Shabbat table has always been a place where Jewish people have experimented and codified "Jewish food" — food that tells the story of what it means to be a part of this community. Now, we turn to our own Shabbat table as a place to elevate our own stories, prompted and inspired by dishes we feel connected to. The Memory Dinner is a holistic experience, engaging all senses in an embodied evening of narrative. You don't have to be an Instagram-worthy chef or a master storyteller for The Memory Dinner to work its magic. You just have to be curious. And with this guide, your Friday meal will bring stories alive.
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Corned Beef and Cabbage by George Bilgere
I can see her in the kitchen, Cooking up, for the hundredth time, A little something from her Limited Midwestern repertoire. Cigarette going in the ashtray, The red wine pulsing in its glass, A warning light meaning Everything was simmering Just below the steel lid Of her smile, as she boiled The beef into submission, Chopped her way Through the vegetable kingdom With the broken-handled knife I use tonight, feeling her Anger rising from the dark Chambers of the head Of cabbage I slice through, Missing her, wanting To chew things over With my mother again.
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Creating Ritual Rituals are actions that draw out higher meaning, and this is what a Memory Dinner — and Shabbat — are all about. The Shabbat rituals of lighting candles, sanctifying the evening with wine, blessing the bread, and closing with gratitude are invitations to create a mindful space where stories, questions, and exploration are welcome. Ritual, especially at the Shabbat dinner table, should feel adaptable. As the host of your own Memory Dinner, we invite you to do what feels right and change things up to reflect your crew’s traditions, practices, and preferences. When choosing rituals with which to frame your meal, you might consider the idea of zachor, remember. In Jewish tradition, we're commanded to remember and keep Shabbat as a way of making it holy. This means that through telling stories and honoring time, we're empowered to create spaces of sacredness. Choose rituals which elevate this moment and establish an intentional atmosphere for your dinner.
LIGHT Lighting the candles at sundown on Friday is the last act of the work week, the literal spark that carries us into the weekend. You can light a candle (or two), modifying your space and declaring the evening begun. Or, consider this a metaphorical invitation to highlight what has brought light to your communal weeks. Close your eyes and declare that when you open them, it’s the weekend.
.שבָּת ַ ׁ בָּרוּך ְ ַא ּתָה יְי ָ אֱלֹהֵינו ּ ֶמל ֶך ְ הָעוֹל ָם א ֲׁשֶר ִקד ּ ְׁשָנו ּ בְ ּ ִמצְוֹתָיו וְצִו ָּנו ּ ל ְ ַה ְדל ִיק נ ֵר ׁשֶל Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha’olam asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav vitzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Shabbat. Blessed is the Oneness that makes us holy through commandments and commands us to kindle the light of Shabbat.
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WINE Sanctifying the evening with a festive drink is an opportunity to make the evening special by sharing your hopes for this gathering. There’s a line in the blessing over wine which really leans into the spirit of zachor — a line which frames Shabbat, our weekly taste of liberation, as an embodied remembrance of being freed from slavery. Each time we bless our wine, we recall the stories of our people. In the context of a Memory Dinner, this feels especially poignant. So consider offering a toast, or inviting your guests to raise a glass of their own, and invite stories into this space. L’chaim!
.בָּרוּך ְ ַא ּתָה יְי ָ אֱלֹהֵינו ּ ֶמל ֶך ְ הָעוֹל ָם בּו ֹ ֵרא ּפ ְ ִרי הַג ָ ּפ ֶן .כ ִּי הוּא יו ֹם ְּתחִל ָּה ל ְ ִמ ְק ָראֵי קֹד ֶׁש זֵכ ֶר ל ִיצִיאַת ִמצְ ָרי ִם .ַשבָּת ַ ׁ בָּרוּך ְ ַא ּתָה יְי ָ ְמ ַקד ּ ֵׁש ה Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha’olam borei p’ri ha’gafen. Ki hu yom tehilah l’mikra’ei kodesh zecher litziat Mitzrayim. Baruch Atah Adonai m’kadesh ha’Shabbat. Blessed is the Oneness that creates the fruit of the vine. As first among our sacred days, it is a memory of the liberation from Egypt. Blessed is the Oneness that sanctifies Shabbat.
BREAD Blessing bread connects us to the process of work that has to happen in order for food to arrive at our table. Having spent time really connecting to the food we’re about to consume, a blessing honoring process and product just feels right.
. ַה ּמוֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן ָה ָא ֶרץ,בָּרוּך ְ ַא ּתָה יְי ָ אֱלֹהֵינו ּ ֶמל ֶך ְ הָעוֹל ָם Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha’olam ha’motzi lechem min ha’aretz. Blessed is the Oneness that brings forth bread from the earth.
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The Overview THE ROLE OF THE HOST The host is an integral part of the Memory Dinner — you are the convener, the instigator, the compiler of the evening. You invite each participant to the table (or empower them to invite their friends) and help make sure everyone understands the intentions + goals of the evening. You are the guide through the steps of the Memory Dinner, participating yourself while ensuring everyone’s dish and story have a chance to be shared. Thank you! THE ROLE OF THE PARTICIPANT Each participant is a pillar of the evening, supporting the magic of gathering through passion, storytelling, creativity, and active listening. The beauty of the Memory Dinner is that you don’t need to be a chef to do it “right” — you just need to be willing to share the experience openly with your tablemates. BEFORE THE MEAL
When you're invited to dinner, you’ll start thinking about what dish(es) you might want to make and share. You should pick something you feel connected to, something you’ll want to talk about. Perhaps it’s something you grew up eating, or something you associate with a loved one. Perhaps it’s a dish that you ate for a celebration, or at a hard time, or while traveling. Perhaps you’ll cook something you’ve made hundreds of times, or something you’ve never attempted before. What will make the evening special is how you share the story of your food with those around the table.
Once you’ve chosen your food, engage your senses fully by picking out a song or two that relates to what you’re hoping to share. It could be music from the culture where the dish originates, or a song you associate with the person who first made the dish for you, or even a song you just love cooking to! The host will compile these songs into a playlist and send them out in advance.
When it’s time to cook, you’ll do so while listening to the playlist, imagining what dishes your tablemates are whisking up and immersing in the experience of creating food with intention. While you cook, consider taking pictures or videos of the process! Share them in a communal album or on a group thread, getting everyone excited for the evening.
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DURING THE MEAL
When you're all gathered together (whether virtually or in person), start off the evening with a round of introductions for your dishes. Share the name of your dish, where and when you first had it, what part of the meal it’s meant to be (Is it an appetizer? Dessert? Main course?), and how long it took you to make.
Then, dive into the stories. Everyone will share for 3-5 minutes about their food and why they chose it.
Once everyone has had a chance to share their inspiration for the dish they brought, consider continuing the conversation with these prompts: What patterns do you notice among the dishes represented at this table? What patterns do you notice among the stories? What was the most challenging part of cooking this food? What was the easiest?What dishes did you grow up eating with family? What foods were a special treat? What foods did you associate with holidays, birthdays, or parties? Where does this dish come from? Trace the recipe through individuals, geographies, and cultures. Consider where each ingredient originated. What journeys did the ingredients go through to make it into this dish, together?
Pro-Tip: Pass around the guide and encourage your guests to choose a prompt to lead. During the stories, practice active listening — listening without interrupting, without planning what to say next, and without judgement. AFTER THE MEAL After everyone eats, the host can collect all the images, recipes, and maybe some of the beautiful, wise, and hilarious words that have been shared, and share them back out in the form of a recipe book. The recipe book might look formal and deliberately crafted, or it might be a digital document where everything was collected. Whatever it looks like, it will be yours — a testament to your meaningful Friday night together — and a functional recipe book for trying out the delicious dishes your tablemates created.
“Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.” – Anthony Bourdain ONETABLE.ORG | @ONETABLESHABBAT
ending with gratitude While many faiths and cultures have an intentional moment of gratitude before meals, not quite as many have one after meals. The Jewish blessing after the meal, or Birkat ha'Mazon in Hebrew, evolved over time (like all Shabbat dinner rituals) and comes from a verse in the Torah:
"When you have eaten and are satisfied, bless." The ritual of a blessing after meals isn’t about expressing gratitude for food itself, but for the feeling of being full — of nutrients, yes, but also of community. Closing with words of gratitude bookends your evening with intentional ritual, elevating sacred space by giving it a thoughtful ending. You might consider closing with a poem, a song, or a piece of your discussion you want to highlight. Or, you might close with a blessing from the Jewish tradition that centers breaking bread as the foundation of communal nourishment:
.בְ ּ ִריך ְ ָרחֲ ַמנ ָא ַמלְכ ָא ְדעַלְמָא ַמ ֵריה ְדהַאי פ ִיתָא Brich rachamana malka d’alma marei d’hai pita. We are blessed with compassion by the Oneness that sustains us with bread.
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The Abuelita Poem by Paul Martinez Pompa
I. SKIN & CORN Her brown skin glistens as the sun pours through the kitchen window like gold leche. After grinding the nixtamal , a word so beautifully ethnic it must not only be italicized but underlined to let you, the reader, know you’ve encountered something beautifully ethnic, she kneads with the hands of centuries-old ancestor spirits who magically yet realistically posses her until the masa is smooth as a lowrider’s chrome bumper. And I know she must do this with care because it says so on a website that explains how to make homemade corn tortillas. So much labor for this peasant bread, this edible art birthed from Abuelitas’s brown skin, which is still glistening in the sun. II. APOLOGY Before she died I called my abuelita grandma. I cannot remember if she made corn tortillas from scratch but, O, how she’d flip the factory fresh El Milagros (Quality Since 1950) on the burner, bathe them in butter & salt for her grandchildren. How she’d knead the buttons on the telephone, order me food from Pizza Hut. I assure you, gentle reader, this was done with the spirit of Mesoamérica ablaze in her fingertips.
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