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Wendy’s Shabbat: Beauty Traced with Sadness

Wendy’s Shabbat: Beauty Traced with Sadness

Every week a group of elderly retired Jews hold Shabbat dinners at Wendy’s. It’s beautiful but is this the best we can do for them?


Every week a group of elderly retired Jews hold Shabbat dinners at Wendy's. Despite its unusual and decidedly non-kosher setting, “It’s a meaningful celebration,” notes Rachel Myers, a Los Angeles director and designer in the film industry, whose grandmother Roberta Mahler is one of the Shabbat dinner regulars. In 2017, Ms. Myers decided to make a short documentary about the community, and her film, “Wendy’s Shabbat”, is being screened in film festivals across the United States in 2018.

In an exclusive interview, Ms. Myers explains that her grandmother and others are “finding the connection to Judaism in whatever way they can” through their weekly Shabbat dinners at Wendy’s.

The film is a moving window into the yearning of this group of retirees to connect with Jewish tradition and community. “Shabbat is a unique day,” one regular notes, “because it’s supposed to transform you from the ordinary to the extraordinary.” His regular Shabbat dinners at Wendy’s are an attempt to bring that promise and holiness into his life.

The group is a remarkable testament to the determination to connect with other Jews and with Jewish tradition, no matter what the obstacles.

Judaism teaches that each and every Jew possesses a “pintele Yid”, an indestructible ember within us that longs to express one’s Jewish soul.

This visceral desire to connect has motivated the dozens of Jews who gather each week in Palm Desert. “Living by yourself and having a group going to Wendy’s – it gives you a feeling of belonging,” one weekly participant relates. Another confides, “It gives you a warm feeling to be involved – it’s a feeling within that you need something.”

“Wendy’s Shabbat” is a powerful reminder that we all long for holiness and connection.

The clip has gone viral and is sparking people across the country to get in touch with the filmmakers and enquire about starting their own Shabbat dinners in fast food restaurants. While many find the concept of fast-food Shabbat meals inspiring, I also have found them troubling and traced with sadness. In a country as rich in Jewish resources as ours, is this really the best we can do for our bubbies and zeidies? Judaism mandates that we perform the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim, or welcoming guests. Does the existence of Wendy’s Shabbats mean that we’re not doing all we can to include the most vulnerable Jews in our Shabbat and other celebrations? Can’t we provide these yearning souls with a deeper, more authentic Shabbat experience?

I remember inviting an elderly widow to join us for Shabbat dinner. She eagerly said yes and that Friday evening, as the sun went down, my kids went over to help her down her front steps and into our home. As she walked through our door, she looked transformed. She’d clearly made a big effort to dress up for the occasion and even had her hair done at a salon. She was so happy to have been invited into our home. As we made the Shabbat blessings together, I asked myself why I hadn’t invited her over more often, how we could have let her languish all alone next door all those weeks, longing to be a part of a Shabbat celebration but not knowing how.

“Wendy’s Shabbat” is a powerful reminder that we all long for holiness and connection, and is a testament to the determination to join with others through Jewish tradition.

It’s also a reminder of our duty to include the lonely and isolated among us. It’s moving that so many Jewish retirees are seeking companionship and holiness in ad hoc Shabbat dinners in a fast food restaurant. It’s my hope that soon they can find this companionship in a home, as well. That soon, they can make the Shabbat blessings over real candles, that they can enjoy real wine, and that they can connect even more with their wider Jewish community. For now, their fortitude and determination in trying to carve out a Jewish community for themselves should be an inspiration for us all.

February 13, 2018

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Visitor Comments: 18

(15) Rafi Weinstein, February 16, 2018 11:24 AM

Make Wendy's Kosher

Sadly the "easiest" way to make things better, would be to make some Wendy's kosher somehow...

(14) Anonymous, February 16, 2018 7:40 AM

Sad and lovely.

The fact is that many older people are often alone and don't have many friends or family to be with. It's very sad that our culture in general leaves old people alone. It's also lovely that they get dressed up and look forward to a nice meal together, whether it is according to halacha or not.

I was an older single, and now I am a single mother, and I can attest that even the frum world leaves many of us alone on Shabbos and holidays. I actually dread the holidays, calling around to request invitations from families. It can be degrading. The elderly, and those not connected to a religious community, are often alone.

(13) Anonymous, February 16, 2018 12:53 AM

Very very sad -We religious Jews are doing something wrong!

This article brings tears and immense sadness.Reading all about the Holocaust and learning how people yearned to do mitzvot and were even ready to give up their lives, and then I read this article.What are we, religious people, doing wrong that these elderly people, close to the end of their financial successful lives, do not want to embrace a real Shabbos; making it what it is supposed to be - a sign between the Jewish People and Hashem. How enriched their lives would be if there would be someone who would encourage and bring them to a real Shabbos experience. What a great mitzvah that would be. This is a wake-up call to all people who keep the laws between man and the Almighty. We must polish our act and make sure our lives are a Kiddush Hashem. When frum Jews act according to the entire Torah, the non-religious will want to join. Ben Shapiro's father always said -You either make a Chilul Hashem or a Kiddush Hashem.

(12) Bunny Shuch, February 15, 2018 8:44 AM

There are solutions to this problem

Chabad of Shoreline in CT hosts a free Shabbat dinner for people of all ages twice a month. Perhaps more synagogues could pursue this tradition by getting their members to volunteer their services to cook and donate the food. Another option would be for synagogues to provide a clearing house for people who are willing to host, and people who would like to be invited. .A friend of ours has hosted people from her synagogue for Jewish holiday lunches and dinners for years. When she finds out someone is alone, she invites them to come. Sometimes there have been 35 or 40 people at a meal. It's created a great sense of community. Of course, this is a huge amount of work, but it would help if people would invite even one person to their home for a Shabbos meal.

(11) Anonymous, February 15, 2018 1:58 AM

Don't feel sorry for these folks.

There are 5 synagogues within driving range of Palm Desert, but these retirees choose to go to Wendy's. The film makes it clear why they make this choice. A meal is 4 bucks. These are not poor Jews living in some run down city neighborhood. These are retirees who live in a nice, clean city. They don't have to go to Wendy's, they choose to go to Wendy's.

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