What could be better than a Shabbat meal? At the end of a long week, Friday night dinner affords family and friends the opportunity to gather, break bread together, reminisce about the week, and share that for which we are grateful. In our otherwise busy lives, the Sabbath rituals that begin at Sundown implore us to slow down and take the time to connect; with ourselves, others, and the world we all share.
Last week, as I was traveling back from five days of teaching in Arizona, I was not able to “challah-it-forward” on Friday with Aviva. How would I successfully complete the week’s challah challenge?! Luckily, it didn’t take long to think of a way to both bake and give over the weekend, for we could certainly share freshly baked bread with our cohousing community at our weekly Sunday night meal.
Cohousing is a model of community that is ancient at its root, and yet thoroughy modern in practice, particularly in our fast-paced, often individualistic society. Orginating in Denmark in the 1980s, cohousing communities presently number in the hundreds, and can be found all around the world.
What exactly is cohousing? An intentional community of sorts, in which a group of people seek a more meaningful connection with both their neighbors and the environment. Each cohousing community is unique in its design, but most have a certain number of private households that surround some kind of a shared courtyard. Most also have a “common house,” which often contains a community kitchen, living room, dining room, laundry facility, and guestroom.
This kind of community clearly has environmental benefits; from the shared common green space, to the resources saved with fewer washing machines, to space saved by each unit not needing its own individual guest rooms, the list goes on and on.
Just as important as these environmental benefits (for me at least) are the social benefits. While some neighborhoods do indeed have strong social fabrics, in which residents know and rely on one another, how many of us can actually say that we know 15 (in the case of smaller cohousing communities) to over 65 (in the case of larger communities) families that live in our neighborhood?!
Our cohousing community has young and old, gay and straight, single and partnered, families with children and empty nesters, those in the workforce and those who are retired. We depend on each other for the simplest of things (I thought I had eggs in the refrigerator; we need a bigger tent for our upcoming camping trip!), to life’s most profound moments (the passing of a loved one; the birth of a baby), and everything in-between. For our daughter Aviva, this contact with so many in the community is such a blessing; she’s able to regularly interact with folks from all different stages of life, and learn different things from each and every one of them.
The heart of our community is, hands down, our shared meals: Three times a week, Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday, we gather to eat, together. The assigned cooks work very hard preparing the meals, and take great pride in them (In the “Challah-it-Forward” tradition, one woman even makes a double-meal once a month, enough for 50, and gives away half of the portions to a local organization that provides support services to those living in poverty.)
In a way, these three meals are all like Shabbat to me; stories are shared, lively discussions unfold, and those participating leave a little richer for having eaten in community. Thus, it was easy to substitute last Friday’s dinner with last Sunday’s meal. Since it wasn’t technically shabbat, instead of making traditional Challah, we made a whole-wheat loaf from "Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day". Perhaps the most interesting part for Aviva: instead of an egg-wash, there was a water wash! Literally, we painted a layer of water onto the loaves directly before they were placed in the oven.
And then at 6:30, when we heard the cowbell signalling it was time for dinner, we carried our fresh loaf over, and shared with community. What a wonderful way to BEGIN the week!