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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Interfaith Shabbat Dinners | By Gilana Levavi

This spring/summer, we are sharing stories and recipes from throughout the region. In this week's post, Gilana Levavi of Cherry Hill, NJ reflects on food and faith during her year at Hartford Seminary. If you have a recipe you'd like to share, please email Lia Hyman at or Ana West at

    I spent this past academic year as an International Peacemaking Program student at Hartford Seminary, an interfaith graduate school focused on Christianity, Islam and Judaism. One of the highlights of my year was sharing ten Shabbat dinners with Hartford Seminary community members of diverse religious identities. I am grateful for the support of an Interfaith Starter Grant and an Interfaith Leadership Fund grant, both from Interfaith Youth Core, which enabled me to host these dinners. Sharing Shabbat dinners with fellow students and others of diverse religions, identities, nationalities, worldviews, and perspectives was such a pleasure and a privilege for me. I am grateful for all who joined me for these Shabbat dinners. These experiences epitomized for me the essence of Shabbat, the weekly Jewish sabbath: connection, community, rest and renewal.

Gilana kneading challah dough (Credit: Nanik Yuliyanti)

    Each time that I hosted a dinner, I would carefully plan out the food that I needed to purchase, and how and when I would obtain it. This typically happened by bicycle, but sometimes by bus or throughthe generous car-involving assistance of a Hartford Seminary staff member. I would choose menus that evoked the foods that I’ve been accustomed to eat at Shabbat dinners since I was young. There was always challah (bread with ritual significance - this simple vegan recipe, sans the glaze, came to be my favorite). I would also serve either vegetable-based soup or cholent (a traditional Ashkenazi bean and vegetable stew) prepared in a slow cooker, lots of varied roasted vegetables with olive oil and spices, rice, chicken with a tofu alternative, desert and fruit. I enjoyed preparing the food with friends from my program. 

Challah, Babka dessert made from Challah dough and chocolate and beets (Credit: Gilana Levavi)


    The dinners served as a relaxed setting for Hartford Seminary community members and some others to talk and get to know each other, as well as to experience and learn about Shabbat. Often, the dinners would involve opportunities for my HartSem classmates and friends, a few of whom had not had much previous interaction with Jews before coming to Hartford Seminary, to meet Jewish friends of mine whom I would invite. I grew closer to many fellow students through talking with them at these Shabbat dinners. We would talk about religion, life experiences, and more. Together we cultivated an atmosphere of warmth and fellowship, a term I’ve come to understand better from Christian classmates. I continue to cherish memories from these Shabbat dinners. I hope to be able to continue hosting interfaith Shabbat dinners, wherever I am, when possible.

Nanik cutting brussels sprouts (Credit: Gilana Levavi)


  1. I enjoyed reading this. In Ukraine we have similar bread too. It is yummy!

  2. Gilana is such a creator of understanding and peace in this world.