A band’s music blares outside the shipping container in the Wynwood Yard, where a young man in a yarmulke prays kiddush over a decanter of wine.
Strangers sit together around tables lit by candles and soft Edison bulbs as a girl prays over the challah bread, and a smoky, toasted scent of curry wafts through the open doors on a crisp, 60-degree Friday night.
At one table, there’s a Jamaican chef who wants to learn to cook Middle Eastern cuisine, a New York-born Jew who grew up secular and a young couple on a sliding scale of Reform Judaism. But what unifies them tonight is a respect for the Jewish tradition of taking time to rest and reflect — and the prospect of a delicious meal.
“Shabbat shalom, everyone,” Della Heiman, founder of the Wynwood Yard, tells the diners as they sit to break bread together.
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Shabbat dinner has traditionally been a time for Jewish families to eat together at home or after temple to mark the beginning of the day of rest. But several Shabbat dinners popping up around South Florida, such as this monthly event at the Wynwood Yard, are drawing a wide range of diners.
“Yes, it’s a Shabbat dinner, but really it is all about the community coming together,” said Julie Frans, culinary director at Wynwood Yard. “We break bread together and commune.”
Heiman turned a weed-covered acre off Northwest 29th Street into this manicured, outdoor community space. It hosts everything from live music to horticulture classes at its urban garden, happy hours at an outdoor bar and dinners at the restaurants and food trucks that use the Wynwood Yard as an incubator for new concepts.
That, she said, made the Yard the perfect host for these group Shabbat dinners. Every month, the head chef of the Wynwood Yard, Nicole Votano, collaborates with a different Miami chef to bring a new flavor to the event. The dinners are $65 a person.
On a recent Friday night, a mixture of Persian spices — coriander and cinnamon, turmeric and saffron — suffused the back of the Yard. There, Votano and chef Maude Eaton, who hosts an occasional dinner series through her Saffron Supper Club, put the finishing touches on the evening’s dinner, which they worked on together.
“This Bohemian, eclectic, not-perfect setting is perfect for us,” Eaton said. “Food is my way of loving people, an expression of love.
“I love the idea of Shabbat to begin with, and this is an opportunity to meet like-minded people. There’s no judgment,” added Votano, who grew up in London with a Jewish mother and an Italian father. “And the food is amazing.”
Nearby, one man is telling a group about his outdoor Shabbat dinner in the desert at Burning Man, where they started supper as the first stars appeared overhead. The diners: possibly naked. The meal: definitely not kosher, he laughed.
Neither are the dinners at the Wynwood Yard. But strict tradition is not what brings people here for dinner, said David Sprintis, as he laughed along with the story.
“For me, it’s more about community,” he said.
Dietary restrictions are considered. Most of the meals at Wynwood Yard are vegan or vegetarian. And a new Shabbat dinner at the nearby restaurant Dizengoff, founded by award-winning Israeli-born chef Michael Solomonov, sticks to some of the tenets of kosher cuisine, though the food preparation is not certified by a rabbi.
Chef Valerie Chang, who ran the kosher 26 Sushi & Tapas with her father, now runs the kitchen at Dizengoff. She makes sure traditions are respected.
“We keep it unorthodoxly kosher,” she joked, adding that dairy and meats are never mixed in the dinner. “People don’t just want to eat and get out. They want to enjoy the night. It makes it special.”
Dish after Persian dish landed on the white line-covered tables and sparked oohs and ahhs at Wywnood Yard.
It was a fashion show of food: A radiant palate of hummus and dips, from green tahini or fuschia beets, glowing next to warm pita bread. A pomegranate and walnut chicken stew to warm the soul. Eggplant with yellow split pea stew redolent in cinnamon. A mouth-watering Tahdig Polo rice with a golden, crispy crust drew applause.
“What they do is put a different spin on a tradition,” said David Rodriguez, a Cuban American from Jewish parents. He doesn’t eat pork but doesn’t necessarily keep kosher, and he is a repeat diner of the Saffron Supper Club.
Diners are still licking tahina-cardomon ice cream with candied orange peel and dates off their spoons when one of the supper club organizers, Sara Liss, stands to read a poem to close out the evening.
It’s a selection about a chick pea from the Muslim theologian Rumi, which perfectly encapsulates the night.
“We created a community tonight, even if it was just for a few hours,” Liss tells them. “I hope you all take a Shabbat for yourselves this weekend. Take a break, because you deserve it.”