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Family Dinner, A Must


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My parents are European.  Which means lots of things, for instance, we yell a lot.  When I’d ask my dad “why are you and mommy and grandma and grandpa and Aunt Pat and Uncle Frankie and everyone always screaming at each other?”  “We’re not screaming” he’d answer loudly, “this is just how we talk.”  Apparently we’re a rowdy bunch.  My AMERICAN husband is always shushing me.   Making that lower-your-voice-waving-motion with his hand when I talk to him, on the phone, to the kids, I like to think I am just full of joie de vivre but I guess I do kinda come across as noisy.

I also inherited the old country habit of eating the day’s main meal EARLY.  On the weekends we always ate dinner (which was really lunch you see) at 2 o’clock and on the weekdays we ate dinner at 4.  Which means during the week we almost never ate together as a family, with my dad, cause he was ALWAYS at work.

I remember going to friends’ houses and starving (even with a snack) until their family + daddy dinner time at 6 or 7pm.  My stomach just couldn’t get bear the wait.

But I have come to really, really, really! believe in the dinner as a family concept.  I remember reading something Rabbi Lawrence Hajioff (our JoK Rabbi) wrote about Shabbos and the endurance of the Jewish people as a whole and the success of the family unit (in contrast to other religions and cultures) as due in part to our weekly, ritual, undistracted, family-focused, Shabbos meals.

My parents are now divorced.  For the second time.  From each other.  Yes, they divorced each other twice.  Which of course means they married each other twice.  Now I am not saying it’s because we didn’t keep Shabbos and didn’t eat dinner as a family.  I am just saying.

Coordinating dinner as a family is so complicated I know, between schedules, and jobs, and extracurricular activities.  But to the extent that you can make family dinner a priority, at least once during the work week, the investment in your family is priceless.

At our family dinners we have a ritual where we go around the table and ask everyone individually to talk about the best part of their day.  As we sit down and begin serving the food everyone (including the adults) starts to think and get excited for their turn.  This exercise helps us all frame our sometimes wonderful, sometimes exhausting, sometimes difficult day into one with a positive takeaway.  The happiest memory shines front and center as does the person sharing it with the family.  It’s a simple exercise in optimism, in positivity, in the sharing of happy experiences with one another as well as in confidence building and in public speaking.  We make it a point to all participate and even ask my 2 ½ year old about the best part of her day.  She can’t talk much yet but she always says or does something cute that makes us all laugh.  Hubby and I share too.  We are careful to go around the table in a different order at each meal so everyone has a chance to be first.

What do you think about family dinner?  How important is it?  Do you do it?  What do you do to get the dinner table conversation going?  Or how do you focus it?

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About Jamie Geller


Jamie Geller is the only best-selling cookbook author who wants to get you out of the kitchen – not because she doesn’t love food – but because she has tons to do. As “The Bride Who Knew Nothing” Jamie found her niche specializing in fast, fresh, family recipes. Now the "Queen of Kosher" (CBS) and the "Jewish Rachael Ray" (New York Times), she's the creative force behind JoyofKosher.com and "Joy of Kosher with Jamie Geller" magazine . Jamie and her hubby live in Israel with their five busy kids who give her plenty of reasons to get out of the kitchen - quickly. Check out her new book, "Joy of Kosher: Fast, Fresh Family Recipes."




7 Responses to Family Dinner, A Must

  1. When I was growing up we didn’t discuss the idea of family dinner. It was simply what we did, every night and we waited for my Dad and ate at 7. When I had kids they complained about family dinner, which had to be stated as what we always did, whether or not they liked it; we asked about their day, talked politics, art, toys and everything else. Now they are both grown and married with children and both thank us for insisting on it and btw, the friends they have from childhood still talk about the fact that we actually talked to them when they stayed for dinner, unlike their parents who never ate with them. And for my kids — family dinner is what they do — of course not always and sometimes not with the youngest, who is not yet 2. But as a family, Family Dinner is what we do and it makes our lives fuller and better, even with the occasional yell.

    • Ronnie I love hearing from you and I just love the “it’s what we do” attitude. It’s so incredible to hear from your kids now that how much they valued it and have tried to keep the tradition going.

  2. avatar says: Deborah

    Each night we make sure we have dinner as a family. Family dinner is the time to reflect on our day as well as praying for those who need our prayers. We have a strict rule that no cell phones or computers are allowed at the dinner table. We do not answer the phone either. The dinner table is the only time we can all sit together and talk.

    • Deborah I am so with you on the no electronics and no answering the phone – it breaks the momentum and attention span of everyone involved and says “there is something more important than you and what you are saying” we are always so connected it’s so hard to put our devices down and focus on each other in the flesh. because I am always so tempted to check my phone/email etc… it’s a like a reflex every few minutes – I have started to leave my phone upstairs in my home office so I am not tempted during dinner time/family time.

    • I also love that you use dinner time as a chance to pray. We are going to start something new this week called the Hakaros HaTov campaign, loosely translated as the gratitude campaign. Instead of just asking the kids what the best part of their day was we are going to ask them what they are thankful for from this day or even this past year. As the Jewish New Year approaches and we are so focused on asking for new blessings for the new year we think it’s important to reflect back with gratitude for the blessings we have just lived through this past year.

  3. avatar says: Arye Lev

    Sounds good but….. Pre-schoolers get home somewhere between 3-4:00 PM, and go to bed at maybe 7:30-8:00. Bump that up by an hour for lower elementary grade students, and 2-3 hours for junior high school and high school. So except for a small family with closely spaced children, it is very difficult to pull this off. And that doesn’t even account for varying commuting times for Mommy and Daddy.

    On top of that, the dining room is often used for homework, etc., and not every kitchen can accommodate the entire family. I would just add from personal experience, that unless you have an enormous house or apartment, there will be plenty of other opportunities for family interaction each night besides dinner.

    • Hi Arye Lev – thank you so much for commenting. You bring up so many good point. Truth be told I was too focused perhaps on my personal situation without considering different family structures and logistics. We are a family of 7 with 5 kids in the space of 6 years. We live in Israel where our kids get home from school between 1:30 – 3p and the schools are walking distance from our house. I work out of the house so there is no commute to account for with the exception of the single flight of stairs between my home office and eat-in kitchen which luckily can accommodate all of us. It’s a tight squeeze but we make it and thankfully my 4 year old doesn’t mind to get up every time someone needs to open the fridge. Obviously family dinner is a sticking point for me personally because I never had it growing up and never had Shabbos. The essential thing as you say is to recognize the importance of the family unit and family interaction on a regular basis be it at dinner or by seizing other opportunities that present themselves.

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