Fast-food restaurants are where people go to grab a quick greasy bite — or feed the soul.
“Wendy’s Shabbat,” a short documentary making its New York debut at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 21, follows a group of Jewish seniors mostly in their eighties and nineties as they savor ancient rituals, albeit with a few tweaks.
Their go-to spot on Friday nights is a Wendy’s restaurant near their Sun City homes in Palm Desert, Calif. It’s where this makeshift family of oldies but goodies gather for the Sabbath. Unorthodox? Sure. Joyous and satisfying? Absolutely.
The movie is a family affair, directed by Rachel Myers, produced by her mother Abby Mahler Myers and featuring her grandmother Roberta Mahler.
“Shabbat is the celebration of the beginning of the Sabbath,” Roberta Mahler, 87, explains in the film. “You light candles, you say prayers over wine and challah.”
Which is basically what this group does — except those candles are battery-operated, the challah is B.Y.O. and the vino is grape juice (wine is a Wendy’s no-no). And they also order and munch Baconator sandwiches, french fries, baked potatoes, chili, Frostys and other Wendy’s menu items.
“We were sitting around the pool on a Friday night with nothing to do and nowhere to go,” Sharon Goodman, 79, says in the film. “We’re not fancy people, so we figured, ‘Let’s go down to Wendy’s.’”
Reactions to a Friday night Shabbat dinner at a fast-food joint ranged from shock to embarrassment to “You can’t do that.” But she could. “I went up and asked the manager,” says Goodman, “and she said, ‘Yes you certainly can.’ It just kind of happened.”
Mahler, a retiree from Long Island, recalls it vividly. “One of my friends said to me, ‘Come on, we’re gonna go to Wendy’s for Shabbat.’ I said, ‘Wendy’s Shabbat?’ I couldn’t believe it.”
Five-plus years later, she’s a true believer.
Same goes for Lou Silberman, 91, another Wendy’s Shabbat-er who often orders the Son of a Baconator — a bacon cheeseburger with two layers of beef patties — and well-done french fries. “Other times,” he says, “I’ll have a baked potato with chili, because I’ll tell you, Wendy’s chili is outstanding.”
For Mahler, a widow of nine years who lives alone with her dog and motors around in a golf cart, the warmth of shared experiences is what’s most delicious.
“The people that I’ve met at Wendy’s have become a family,” she says. “Going to Wendy’s with a group…gives you a feeling of belonging. It’s a panic.”
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