Shabbat is “hardwired” into our Jewish souls.
That’s the notion that underlies Yvette Alt Miller’s new book, “Angels at the Table: A Practical Guide to Celebrating Shabbat.”
“Every Jewish person was made with this metaphysical connection to Shabbat,” she said in an interview. “Many are drawn to [observing the Sabbath] even if they may not be ready to accept every recommendation in the book.”
The idea for Miller’s recently published book began percolating after she moved into a District of Columbia neighborhood, Cleveland Park, that had “a very warm Jewish environment” but with families at various levels of religious observance.
“There were families that wanted to include more Shabbat observance into their lives,” she said, “and I helped them.”
She and her family now live in Northbrook, Ill., a northern suburb of Chicago. Again, she lives outside of the main Chicago Orthodox community among Jews of differing religious observance.
And again, she has been hosting many families on Shabbat. “Many people, having tasted Shabbat, like it,” she noted.
Many of her guests over the years had misconceptions about what it means to be shomer Shabbos, which she has tried to clarify. So many people focus on the restrictive rules, she said, and lose sight of the joyful nature of Shabbat.
Hearing all of the questions and misconceptions people had about Shabbat led Miller to believe she should (and could) write a book on those topics. She pondered the book for years, and once she started, it took her only 18 months to finish.
Miller was born in 1970 in Chicago and grew up in a Conservative Jewish home with parents who were not very religious. “I’ve always been drawn to things Jewish, but thought I was missing something [in her family’s observance of Judaism], that there was some wisdom I wasn’t getting,” she said.
Therefore, as an undergraduate at Harvard, she decided to become religiously observant.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree in government in 1992, she got a master’s and then a Ph.D. in international relations from the London School of Economics, as well as a postgraduate diploma in Jewish studies from the University of Oxford in England.
She lived in the Washington area from 1998 to 2003, working at the U.S. International Trade Commission and as deputy director of the office and head of public affairs at United Jewish Communities in the District. She attended services at two congregations, one Orthodox and one Conservative.
Miller said her aim of the book is to “demystify Shabbat … I wanted it to be a complete resource [on the subject].”
Its 15 chapters include “Rules and laws of Shabbat,” “Drawing close to God: blessings at the Shabbat dinner table” and “Finding a community: Shabbat morning services.” Chapters titled “Easy, traditional Shabbat recipes” and “Songs for Shabbat” are also included.
While the book is useful, its spiritual aspect is what Miller wanted to stress.
“I want people to understand that Shabbat is supremely satisfying,” she said, “and encourage them to incorporate new experiences into their Shabbat.”
“Angels at the Table: A Practical Guide to Celebrating Shabbat” by Yvette Alt Miller (384 pages, Continuum, $34.95).