Every Friday night at sundown, the Wendy’s near Palm Desert, California, gets a little crowded. An elderly group of Jewish friends hosts a Shabbat dinner celebration at their cheap tables — and now, their cherished tradition has been documented in an adorable short film. Wendy’s Shabbat is a documentary that follows the crew, nearly all in their eighties and nineties, as they relay the tale of their community’s tradition.
“One of my friends said to me, ‘Come on, we’re going to go to Wendy’s for Shabbat,’” Roberta Mahler, 87, says in the film. “I said, ‘Wendy’s? Shabbat?’ I couldn’t believe this.”
Rachel Myers, who directed the film, is Roberta Mahler’s granddaughter. The grandmother joined in the unconventional religious celebration after mourning the death of her husband, Jack, and seeking to connect with her Jewish community. What better way to connect than over greasy napkins and French fries?
The short film explicates the importance of ritual for this aging group of isolated friends — and how one ritual, no matter how silly it seems, serves to hold them all together.
“We’re not fancy people, so we figured, let’s go down to Wendy’s”, the group’s founder, Sharon Goodman, 79, said. Every week, she and her husband call their local Wendy’s to reserve the necessary tables. The employees, they say, are always gracious and kind.
“I usually have a Son of Baconator,” says Lou Silberman, 91, his wife giggling as he admits to ordering one of the unhealthiest options. “And some well-done French fries. Other times I’ll have a baked potato and with some chili, because I want to tell you something: Wendy’s chili is outstanding.”
A favorite of many attendees, the chili at Wendy’s is also kosher. (The Baconator, of course, is not.)
Together, the group sings a few prayers, lights the Shabbat candles, and eats challah with grape juice — because at Wendy’s, there’s no wine allowed.
Myers’ film premiered in Atlanta at a Jewish film festival and has since become a sensation in many Jewish circles. Wendy’s Shabbat will make its New York premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday, April 21.
This adorable gathering has become a coveted ritual for towns nationwide. Myers has received inquiries and messages from Jewish communities throughout the U.S. requesting events, asking to host a Wendy’s Shabbat for their synagogue, and telling Myers of similar traditions.
When she first began filming, Myers says she was trying to find a “strong nugget of, like, this deep Jewish connection” at the nugget-serving fast food chain. But instead, she found a rich story of connection that was far from cheap.
“Living by yourself, and having a group like going to Wendy’s — it gives you a feeling of belonging,” one woman says in the film.
“The documentary is really about finding connection in the most unlikely places,” Myers told The Daily Meal. “It has been tremendously inspiring that our little documentary could have such a broad reach.”
There’s something you didn’t know about Wendy’s — for this elderly Jewish community on a Friday night, it’s the best place to be.