The science of a Shabbat meal


Alan Gersch loves science and Shabbat. Now he’s finally found a way to combine them.

On Friday night, his family and some 50 others will sit around five family dinner tables and use the Shabbat meal to demonstrate and discuss scientific principles.

Literally, the Shabbat meal.

“Each person will bring a food item and explain the associated science with food they brought. Hopefully discussion will ensue,” said Gersch, a Washington resident.

One item might be “Molecule model meatballs,” held together with toothpicks to illustrate the building blocks of matter.

Or a red cabbage salad that changes color similar to litmus paper when a base or acid is mixed in.

Gersch, who has a Ph.D. in astronomy, calls his experimental meal Mystery Science Shabbat 3000. He admits he’s never seen its namesake, the 1990s cult classic Mystery Science Theater 3000, in which a human and three robots watch terrible movies and make jokes about them.

He got the idea about a decade ago. “I was reading articles about New York bars that were having science nights,” he said. “They were having scientists come in to talk.”

The science nights were attracting crowds, so Gersch thought he could replicate the same mixture of socializing, eating and education, but around a Shabbat table, and minus the scientists. He and his wife, Lili, threw a couple of science Shabbat dinners and then let the idea drop.

Fast forward to 2014. This time, Gersch had bigger plans. He applied for and received a $1,000 Make It Happen grant from the Schusterman Foundation, which allowed him to spread the word in the Washington Jewish community. “This is the perfect way to scale up the program and get lots more people,” he said.

His aim was a community-wide science Shabbat. He contacted synagogues and independent minyanim, looking for co-sponsors. “I got very few responses or polite no thank yous,” he said.

Still, on Friday evening, some 50 participants will gather at five homes for their Mystery Science Shabbat 3000 experience. Gersch the astronomer said that discussion at his home will probably touch on the saga of the Philae Lander on the duck-shaped Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (duck l’orange anyone?).

“Fundamentally, this is just cool,” said Sarah Barak, who will host a dinner at her Georgetown home. “Most people don’t think about what’s behind the food we eat. We do Shabbat anyway, so this is a great way to learn from other people.”

At the Gersches’ dinner, they’re likely to talk about a science topic that’s dear to the hearts of small children everywhere. “My kids are into dinosaurs,” Gersch said.

Stegosaurus-shaped challah anyone?

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 Challasaurus courtesy of The Chocolate Lady.

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  1. This sounds like fun! Kol hakavod to Alan Gersch and his family for making the Shabbat experience intriguing and inspiring.


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