The old adage has it that “a family that prays together, stays together.” Yet I’m not sure I fully agree. I know too many people who were regularly dragged to services as children, yet now wouldn’t set foot back in a synagogue and don’t have much to do with their parents, either.

You’d like to think that if parents demonstrate their priorities for religion, their children will watch and be inspired, but it doesn’t always happen that way. You can’t force someone to believe, and it takes a host of factors and circumstances to motivate the new generation to follow in the path of their parents.

From my experience, more important than praying together is eating together. Making time to sit down as a family on a regular basis, catching up on each other’s lives in a non-threatening environment and breaking bread together, is a sure recipe for harmony. The highlight of Shabbat is not just the synagogue services but the Shabbat meals, with fine food, communal singing and pleasant conversation. Though not an overtly religious experience, this is often the glue that binds generations together.

I don’t know many people who became religious from going to services; more commonly, it’s those people who are coming closer to Judaism who start attending synagogue. But I do know lots of people who are observant today because their family ate Shabbat meals together.

A few months ago, I was speaking to a middle-aged lady, a grandmother many times over, who recalled being invited to her first-ever Shabbat meal some 30 years ago and being entranced by the easy interactions of her host family. She walked out of their house knowing that she wanted the same one day for her future children.

We read in the Torah, “And you shall eat before the L‑rd, your G‑d . . . so that you may learn to fear the Lord, your God.”1 The context of the text is pointing out that the surest path to learning to fear G‑d is by eating before Him. It’s not the food that does it. Rather, it is our ability to transform the seemingly mundane act of eating into a religious experience.