November 3, 2010
In my house, there is unanimous agreement that Friday is our favorite day of the week. I know that isn't unusual. Who doesn't look forward to the start of the weekend? What has transformed our Friday from average to special is our Shabbat celebration.
The seeds of Shabbat's transformative power were laid when I was a teen and I would attend the Friday night service before a friend's bar or bat mitzvah. I anticipated meeting my friends in the sanctuary, singing the prayers and trying to avoid the stern look the rabbi gave when he caught us talking. Later, in my early high school years when my parents separated, I remember going to services with my mom. Services provided a comforting place to escape the tumult of my parents' situation.
But, what unlocked the real beauty of the holiday was when my non-Jewish husband and I introduced a weekly Shabbat celebration into our home when our son was a toddler. We decided to start the ritual of home observance after I attended a December Dilemma program at our synagogue. Learning about the importance of celebrating Shabbat and other Jewish holidays throughout the year in building a clear Jewish identity, made me want to give it a try. My husband agreed.
I wish I could say that our early experience was smooth. Since I had not celebrated Shabbat in my home growing up, I felt awkward, even nervous that I might not say the blessings correctly or would look foolish in front of my family. I know this is crazy since neither my non-Jewish husband nor my 18-month-old would know differently. But since it is an important ritual and one I felt I should feel comfortable performing, I was scared I might get it wrong.
We muddled our way through the blessings for the candles, wine and challah. As the weeks passed, we became more comfortable with the prayers. When my son and I started to celebrate Shabbat at a Mommy and Me class at our temple on Friday mornings my comfort level with the ritual grew even more.
Slowly, we began adding to our weekly celebration. First, it was tzedakah or charity. My son made a tzedakah box and we gave him money to put in it before we lit the candles. We also started letting him select a charity to donate his tzedakah to once a year. For the past three years, he has chosen to donate to the Australian Koala Foundation because he can "help animals and the earth by planting trees."
During a Shabbat picnic put together by our temple's Interfaith Moms Group, we received a booklet that included blessings for tzedakah, the group, children and after the meal. We added these to our weekly ritual.
I was eager to continue building our observance in order to make it more meaningful. I read books and incorporated new ideas. We started asking each other "What was your favorite part of the week?" "Right now," was often the answer from all of us. My husband and I each started to whisper something special in our son's ear after we said the blessing for male children. It included telling him how much we love him and something we were proud of him for from that week. Now 5, our son loves acting as the decider of who gets to whisper first.
My son and I also started doing Shabbat related projects. We tie-dyed a tablecloth to use on Friday nights and Jewish holidays. We baked challah. We've been baking long enough now that my son has become the master challah braider, wrapping the snakes in various designs. He appraises his work before placing the loaves in the oven and like a true artist, explains what each shape represents. After he blesses the finished product, he always asks my husband if he likes his work of art.
A year ago we started reading a summary of the Torah portion during the meal. At first it was uncomfortable, especially since I am far from a Torah scholar, but with helpful d'var torahs from books and websites, we were able to tell the story in a way that was appropriate for our son. Since then, it has become a great way to teach the values we want our son to live by, and get my husband and I thinking more deeply about the teachings as well. Our son enjoys the story and discussion so much that he is as eager to read it, as he is to read the next chapter in his favorite books.
Most recently, I taught my husband and son one of the Jewish camp versions of the Birkat Hamazon or blessing after meals. When sung this way, the blessing incorporates foot stomping or table banging and side comments such as "pass the antipasto." My son thinks this is very fun. Often in the middle of playing he looks up and asks, "Mommy can you sing the bump, bump, bump song?"
Our observance has evolved so much in the past four years and I'm sure it will continue to grow. What won't change is how Shabbat has given my family the opportunity to take a break from our hectic schedule, spend time together, talk, tell stories and sing. It reminds us of how lucky we are to have each other and to show gratitude for things big and small. I'm filled with joy as we practice this sacred ritual and believe it is laying a strong foundation for the development of our son's Jewish identity.