Families plan and buy at Park Heights store

Grocer a timely part of Shabbos tradition

Maryland Journal

March 20, 2006|By MATTHEW HAY BROWN | MATTHEW HAY BROWN,SUN REPORTER

Ideally, Rabbi Benjamin Insel would have finished his Shabbos shopping by now. But it's mid-afternoon on a Friday, just a couple of hours before sundown, and the middle-school English teacher once again finds himself at Seven Mile Market, gathering up the chicken, the kugel and the gefilte fish for the five guests he'll be hosting for dinner on the weekend.

"I realize I should do this on Thursday," Insel says cheerfully, as his 4-year-old son Michael clutches a bag of marshmallows. "But with work, and looking after my son, and correcting papers, it's always Friday."

It's a typical Friday afternoon at the supermarket in Park Heights, where families are picking up food and supplies for Shabbos while they still can. Beginning at sundown on Friday, Orthodox Jews will refrain from working, handling money, driving a car, answering the telephone and operating electrical appliances. With the din of modern life thus quieted, they will gather with family and friends, attend synagogue services, sing, dance and eat together.

"It's beautiful," says Yaakov Goldsmith, a general contractor trying to choose the right barbecue sauce to go with the beef ribs his family will be eating. "It's the one day that's at the center of the week."

But before the calm, there is - well, if not the storm, at least a fair amount of preparation. Shabbos, which begins at sundown Friday and lasts until after nightfall Saturday, creates a distinct rhythm to Jewish life - a pulse that can be felt at Seven Mile Market. Thursdays, the business bustles with men wearing black hats or yarmulkes and women in berets, ankle-length skirts and sleeves, buying wine and braided challah bread, candles and ingredients for cholent, a slow-cooking stew.

With shopping time shortened on Friday - the store closes at 4 p.m. this time of year - the store fills again.

"You try to avoid it, but it's inevitable," Goldsmith says of the Friday rush. Shabbos is "not one of those things you can be late for. If it starts at 4:52, it starts at 4:52, not 4:53."

Rabbi Shlomo Porter clutches a crumpled shopping list in one hand and reaches into a suitcoat pocket with the other.

"This is the key," says Porter, of the Etz Chaim Center for Jewish Learning, producing a cell phone. "You'll see men talking with their wives, making sure they've got everything they need."

Porter was picking up the last items for the 20 guests he and his wife were hosting that Friday.

"We talk about a one-table Shabbos, and a two-table Shabbos," he says. "This is a three-table Shabbos."

They were planning for 24 more that Saturday. Porter bought chicken on Thursday. Now he was wheeling up to the deli counter for a couple of pounds of turkey and corned beef.

It isn't only cell-phone technology that has made Shabbos preparations easier. Toby Pollack remembers her mother making the challah, the cholent and other dishes each week from scratch. Many still do, but with the proliferation of prepared meals over the past generation, now they have the option of buying them already made.

"When my children and grandchildren are coming over, I'll make my own soup," Pollack says. "When it's just my husband and me, I can take it easy."

Each week, Leni Broder and her husband host six single friends. As she lights the Shabbos candles, she prays they will find partners.

A colleague of Insel's at the Torah Institute of Baltimore, Broder says her attempts at matchmaking so far have not been terribly successful. The main thing, she says, is that people get together for Shabbos, instead of passing the day alone.

"It's a beautiful holiday that comes every week," she says.

Pollack says being surrounded by children and grandchildren is the height of joy.

"I think people who don't have this are running seven days a week," she says.

Shopping for Shabbos makes Thursday and Friday the busiest days at Seven Mile Market. The business closes early on Friday so the quarter or so of the work force that market Vice President Ronny Simcha Retter estimates is observant can get home to family.

"It's a time for getting to the roots of who you are," says Chaim Abrams, manager of the deli and meat department at Seven Mile Market. "Basically, I feel liberated. It's just me, my family and God."

Porter, of the Etz Chaim Center for Jewish Learning, describes Shabbos as a day of freedom from the routine of everyday life.

"Every Jew needs an oasis," Porter says. "We get a spiritual oasis every week."

But now, there's shopping. The oasis is a few hours away.

"The beauty of Shabbos is that there's a deadline," Porter says. "Once you light the candles, the preparations are over. You go with what you've got, and you relax."

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

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