Bringing Shabbat to a Muslim Village

I grew up with my Jewish mother in the very Jewish suburb of Bondi and only started a relationship with my Indonesian father and siblings about 6 years ago. Although I grew up in a very Jewish area, I had left that path around my teenage years and only returned to my Judaism this year.

My father and half siblings are all Muslim. They live in a Muslim country, they go to the mosque, and yet they are very accepting and respectful of their Jewish sister. I had started keeping Shabbos shortly before my departure to Indonesia this year and so I had made sure to learn how to make my own challah and brought some candlesticks.

The town where my family lives in Indonesia is 100% Muslim. Throughout the day it is so common to hear the Muslim call to prayer I don’t even notice it anymore. My brother’s mother is French and lives in the ‘Kampung’ (the village). When I asked her if I could make Shabbos in her house, she was very intrigued and offered to help.

We went to the local market to buy the ingredients for the challah. When we got back to her house to begin making it, I realised she doesn’t have an oven... I hadn’t even thought about that part! Having an oven is a staple part of a kitchen isn’t it? Not in Indonesia apparently. No one in the entire village seemed to have an oven and this was a problem. We tried to think of alternative ways to bake the bread – I even suggested digging a hole in the ground and trying a Polynesian ‘hangi’ style. She suddenly remembered that she had a tin box (it had not been used for many years) and so we cleaned it thoroughly and gave it a go. We put it on the stove and lit the gas underneath it. I showed her how to braid the dough and it was a lot of fun. I took a small piece of the dough and said the bracha on the challah and we placed the challot on a tray in the tin box.

We had a meal ready, a challah in the oven, the candlesticks, but what of the wine? I hadn’t thought about that! They don’t sell wine anywhere around this village and I didn’t know what to do Kiddush over. I quickly messaged my friend in Sydney, and she told me I could do it over beer or suggested squashing some grapes into a shot glass enough to fill the entire glass.

My father took me to the market to buy some grapes but they weren’t selling nice ones at the time. We drove around on his bike looking for another place that sold grapes and finally we came across a man by the side of the road who was selling the freshest plumpest grapes I have ever seen. I bought all he had. I took them back to the house and put them in the fridge. We checked on the challah and it was perfect. We took the grapes and put them in the blender and then squished them through a sieve. There was enough grape juice to fill the beautiful crystal glass she had brought out especially for Shabbos plus an entire pitcher.

The sun was starting to go down and the mosque was beginning its call to prayer right next door. I was worried that I would be doing the Kiddush with the background noise and hoped it would end before I needed to begin. The time came to light the candles and right as we gathered together at the table, the mosque became silent again. We came to the table and I lit the candles. I said Kiddush and we enjoyed the freshest grape juice I have ever tasted, and the softest challah which was still warm from the tin box. We enjoyed the meal together and everyone commented on how nice the experience was. My brother’s mother was so pleased with our beautiful Shabbos dinner; she even told me how she would love to do it every Friday night!