HomeKiddishThis New Shabbat ‘Sesame Street’ Episode is Perfect

This New Shabbat ‘Sesame Street’ Episode is Perfect

via Sesame Street

In “Shabbat Shalom,” Elmo, Big Bird and their friends participate in a moving outdoor Shabbat dinner.

Recently, to little fan-fare, “Sesame Street” premiered a truly gorgeous episode about the weekly Jewish holiday of Shabbat. The episode, titled “Shabbat Shalom,” came out on Friday, April 25, during the Jewish holiday of Passover. It features a beautiful challah braiding segment (that unfortunately aired during a time in which Jews observing Passover can’t actually eat challah, but it is quite beautiful nonetheless), and features Charlie, played by Violet Tinnirello, who like her character, is Jewish.
    In the episode, which is quite magically all about family, there is a leak in Charlie’s apartment, which can’t be fixed before Friday at sundown, putting a damper on her family’s plans to have Shabbat dinner.
    “Did we hear you have a problem with your Shabbat dinner? Also, what’s Shabbat dinner?” Big Bird asks as he, Elmo, Tamir and Alan (Alan Muraoka, the lovely owner of Mr. Hooper’s store on Sesame Street) pass them.
    Charlie reminds them that they know her family is Jewish—they actually celebrated Hanukkah together in a previous episode—and that because she is Jewish, her family celebrates their own holidays and traditions, her favorite being Shabbat. “A cozy dinner for Shabbat is something really special,” she explains, disappointed that her family won’t be able to partake in one this week. But then her father suggests holding an outdoor Shabbat dinner for everyone.
    “Shabbat is a day of rest, where families spend time together, with our family and with friends,” Charlie’s mother aptly tells them, and says they would love to have Elmo, Tamir, Big Bird and Alan at their celebration.
    The puppets and Alan also join in helping them with their preparations, including making challah bread. “Challah is a traditional Jewish bread. I learned to make it from my Bubble—that means grandma,” Charlie’s father explains.
    Charlie then uses what appears to be play dough—much more sturdy than stretchy challah dough—to show how to braid a six-strand challah, and actually teaches it quite well. She and her father then explain what an egg wash is, how to coat the challah in it, and she tells Elmo and Tamir that you can sometimes sprinkle sesame seeds on challah, which they do, of course, for a Sesame Street celebration.
    She also explains to Elmo, who brings the candles, what a kiddush cup is, and her dad shares that theirs came from Charlie’s great-grandfather—a reminder that family, present and long gone, is always a part of Shabbat celebrations.
    Finally, as the sun begins to set, it’s time for Shabbat. “This Shabbat is even more special now, because we get to share it with our friends,” Charlie tells the families gathered at the table, including Big Bird and his parents, Elmo and his parents and Tamir and his mother, Kayla (who also lent the chairs and tablecloths). Charlie and her mother bring in Shabbat by lighting the Shabbat candles, and her mom explains that they say blessings in a language called Hebrew. They then do just that, lighting the candles, bringing the light in and saying the blessing over the candles in perfect Hebrew. Charlie’s father responds with an, “Amen.”
    “Elmo thinks that Hebrew sounds beautiful,” the red puppet says movingly (this viewer honestly got a little choked up!).
    They then continue with many parents’ favorite part of Shabbat—their own personalized version of the blessing over the children, which they say in English, adding Elmo and Tamir to the blessing. “Elmo really loves Shabbat dinner,” Elmo shares over the table, laden with delicious food and beautiful challah, as the Shabbat candles glitter.
    In the next segment we meet Judah, a little boy donning a kippah, who shares with a little girl named Brooke about his family’s Shabbat dinner. Brooke shares that her traditional family dinner is on Sunday afternoons—and that they both say a special blessing before the meal. Elmo, Brooke and Judah remind us that the tradition of having weekly family meals is one that’s shared across so many cultures and religions.
    The rest of the episode is about family (F is the letter of the day!), showing pictures of every type of family—same-sex couples, single parent families, disabled family members, young, old, various ethnicities, and found and biological families. “Love makes a family,” the show reminds us. In the episode, kids also learn about lentils and how to make daal, a tradition that some Jewish Indian families partake in. The number of the day is 13—an auspicious number in Jewish tradition (when we celebrate bar, bat and bnai mitzvahs!).
    Family is indeed at the center of Jewish tradition, and it’s so lovely to have Jewish traditions displayed in an episode like this, showing how diverse families—and Jewish families—can look, and one that also pays tribute to the beauty of sharing Jewish traditions with families outside of our religion, on our own terms, and in a way that so respectfully and lovingly explains the basics of Shabbat.
    “Sesame Street” is streaming on Max.  

Lior Zaltzman is a contributing writer to My Jewish Learning Magazine.

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