A couple of weeks before Pesach I was cleaning out a small cupboard in my kitchen where I store tea towels, oven mitts and aprons. There, amongst a pile of folded napery, was a canary yellow apron with white cotton strings at the waist and an adjustable white strap to be worn around the neck. Nothing strange about that. It was the logo printed on the front of this garment that made me smile─ and not in a good way.
‘Thank goodness for Shabbat.’ Was the irony intentional? That simple phrase on a wall hanging, perhaps an old-fashioned cross-stitched sampler, would be benign, even comforting. But on an apron, it could be misconstrued as mockery. On an apron it’s an oxymoron. Thank goodness for Shabbat…so I can don this apron and start chopping up vegetables for three lunchtime salads …so I can keep my dress clean, as I deal with the mountain of dishes in the sink…so guests can complacently read the message on my apron as they watch me bustle between the kitchen and dining room. I should add here that my family and guests do help by offering to make salads or cakes and transferring items between the benchtop and table. But ‘help’ is the operative word in this instance, while I am the chief cook and bottle washer, the only one wearing an apron.
My curiosity is piqued about the origin of this word. I consult my go-to Macquarie Encyclopedic Dictionary with the missing cover and frayed binding. Originally the word was ‘napron’, and over time ‘a napron’ evolved into ‘an apron’. I propose an alternative etymology: APRON as acronym (Apparel Protection [worn] Round One’s Neck). Any allusion to shackles is intentional.
In my mind, aprons and our day of rest should be mutually exclusive. Shabbat or Shabbos─depending which side of Orrong Road you’re on─is a beautiful day, a day of family, friends, prayer, learning, reading, reflection and rest. Most important of all, to some, are the special Shabbat meals including golden chicken soup with accoutrements, and hearty cholent that fills the kitchen with the warmth and aroma of that essential comfort food. With meals comes the need to cook, plate and serve food, but G-d in His infinite wisdom gave us the halachot of Shabbat that limit the when, what and how we prepare food on that day. I spend a part of Thursday and most of Friday cooking and cleaning up my kitchen, so that minimal preparation is required on the day of rest. For that purpose, I have a utilitarian black vinyl apron, sans frills or frippery, that I wear at the benchtop and sink and remove before entering the dining room.
The second day of Shavuot falls on Shabbat this year, which requires an eruv tavshilin to be made on Thursday and some excellent time management before and during the festival. I hope to do a lot of cooking and freezing ahead of time, so Friday afternoon, the first day of Yom Tov, will mainly be one of defrosting and reheating rather than cooking and cleaning up.
My favourite children’s book is Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman. Without the need for a spoiler alert, this delightful story, based on a Jewish folk tale, is about a poor shtetl family and a grandfather who fashions and refashions one item of clothing into another for his growing grandson. In the tradition of something from nothing, I plan to turn my apron into a small yellow cushion emblazoned with the phrase ‘Thank goodness for Shabbat’. I will rest my head on this cushion, as I read and possibly slumber on Shabbat afternoon.
Thank G-d for Shabbat.