Shabbat, Our Way

“No,” my 4-1/2-year-old son protested. “We can’t go out to dinner on Friday night. We have to have hallah and candles, and they don’t have those at the restaurant.”

My face broke into a smile. My efforts were succeeding.

I love the idea of family traditions. I select details from our daily, weekly or yearly lives and I try to imbue them with a sense of importance. I want my adult children to be able to remember fondly walks through New England apple orchards in fall, vibrant discussions at the family dinner table at least several times each week and the family-based exploration of the rhythms of the Jewish calendar. Establishing and observing these traditions will also, I hope, give my children a firm sense of belonging to a unique family where we all love each other enough to celebrate together the different facets of who we are. After all, how many other families celebrate Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), Chuseok (a major Korean harvest holiday), Christmas and Army-Navy Day with equal vigor?

One of the traditions I set out to establish early on was to mark the beginning of Shabbat each week with a family dinner. Growing up in my secular, Jewish household, I never heard the word “Shabbat.” I was completely unfamiliar with the rituals that serve to interrupt the hectic flow of our weekday world and announce that a time has come to focus, if only briefly, on matters that we may find ourselves neglecting during the rest of the week—for example, our family. But as the Jew in my interfaith marriage, it was my task to find ways to bring Jewish values and tradition into our home. With the full support of my non-Jewish husband, who is a willing participant in all aspects of our Jewish family life, I began with the most fundamental of Jewish holidays: Shabbat.

We say the prayers, light the candles, sip the wine and share hallah that I usually bake myself. We eat in the dining room, with cloth napkins instead of paper ones and with special, fun cups that the kids only use on Friday nights. Other than hallah and wine (and milk for the kids), the menu is unimportant--we have even had fast-food pizza on particularly hectic days--but no one can begin eating until the prayers are concluded. (We do allow a cranky-baby exception to that rule.) I don’t read a word of Hebrew, but thanks to a lessons given through Al Galgalim, a once-per-month religious preschool program taught at our synagogue, and a laminated take-home card bearing transliterations of the prayers, I’ve learned to recite the prayers in Hebrew well enough to let them roll off of my tongue and into the ears of my young children.

We are not, ironically, “religious” about observing Shabbat. Occasionally we are at someone else’s house, and, if so, we follow their Friday-night traditions. Sometimes I’m just too darned tired at the end of the week to cook, and we go out. It was during one of these overtired days that my son responded to my suggestion of dining out by objecting that he didn’t want to miss the weekly candles and hallah. Smiling and proud, I agreed to cook so that I would not deprive Jack of this already cherished family tradition.

What more could a Jewish mother ask?

Tracy Hahn-Burkett is a writer who focuses often on family topics, including interfaith and multicultural family issues. She blogs at UnchartedParent.com.
Braided bread made with eggs, over which the Motzi (blessing recited before meals) is said, usually on Shabbat and holidays. The language of Judaism. Used in prayer in most synagogues and the official language of the state of Israel. Also refers to Jews, especially before they entered Israel and were given the Torah, as in "the ancient Hebrews." The Jewish New Year. The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday. Place of Jewish worship, referring to both the room where it occurs and the building where it occurs. Colloquially referred to as "temple."