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Grandmother creates 'al fresco restaurant' to safely celebrate Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah with family

“I feel so happy to be surrounded by all my family. I can’t hug them," said Vicky Koblenc. "But I know they’re there.”

HOUSTON — We’d like to wish our Jewish neighbors a happy new year! Rosh Hashanah starts Friday evening and wraps Sunday evening. 

Because of the pandemic, we know celebrations might look different. But southwest Houston resident Vicky Koblenc may have an idea for you. 

Right now things can seem so restrictive and lonely. Leave it to a grandmother to make Friday night feel special.

“And with it, the was born the ‘al fresco restaurant.’ Because we decided, why not have dinner outside,” said Koblenc of her outdoor dining setup. She separates members of her extended family with different tables and chairs. It’s how she hosts Shabbat during the pandemic. “The end of the week in the Jewish religion when everything is done. Come Shabbat. It’s Friday. And Friday evening is the moment you relax.”

From handmade linens, Koblenc’s pandemic project, to a setup plucked from the streets of Italy, “although we keep our distance, we’re together. And that is a gift for me,” said the grandmother.

“And so finally you can talk about other people’s lives. Hear what’s going on in the world. And you know, just feel like a person again,” said granddaughter Samantha Minkowitz. “We have people driving by. Waving. Honking. Multiple people have asked for an invite. This is a head turner, this whole situation.”

Here’s how it works. Minkowitz and her parents share a table. Niece Barbara and her husband are seated just up the driveway. Friends sit several feet back. And the Koblenc’s watch over everyone.  

“I feel so happy to be surrounded by all my family. I can’t hug them. But I know they’re there.”

The food is buffet-style. One family at a time. 

The conversation is rich, but the prayer and blessings are what bring it all home every Friday night. 

As the family prepares to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, “I want to wish them all a Happy New Year! Let them know that better days are ahead,” said Koblenc. “Keep hoping. We will be together again. I know. I know.”

Credit: Shanthi Saran

A thank you to neighbor Shanthi Saran for using Nextdoor to tell KHOU 11 Reporter Melissa Correa about Koblenc’s al fresco Shabbat.

To connect with Melissa on Nextdoor, click here. 

Saran wrote, “My neighbor Vicky is the quintessential good neighbor. She is the matriarch of our street. She has always been very friendly in the decade that I have known her. It would be a nice surprise for her if “ her restaurant “ as she calls it gets featured on the evening news.”