Cheryl F. Coon is the author of Books to Grow With: A Guide to the Best Children's Fiction for Everyday Issues and Tough Challenges. Cheryl lives with her husband and children in Portland, Ore.
Shabbat Brought Us Together
Originally published October 2003. Republished May 4, 2011
The other night, my husband and I were talking about routines in our family. As I searched for an example of how routines strengthen and ground us as a family, I found myself saying "Like Shabbat (the Sabbath), for instance. Friday nights seem empty to me now if we don't celebrate Shabbat. I look forward to it all week long." "I do, too," he quietly replied, and I rejoiced that we had come to this place.
Sixteen years ago when we were married, the intensity of my need to raise our (future) children as Jewish overwhelmed any lingering identification he had with the Christianity of his youth. He felt no allegiance to Christianity, but he was uncomfortable with organized religion generally. Knowing how I felt, however, he agreed that our children would be Jewish, but made no promises about participating in any of it. We had no real roadmap other than an agreement that one religion made more sense to both of us.
Although I couldn't imagine not raising my children Jewish, my own roots were Reform and had mostly to do with a memory of joyful holidays, food and music. I didn't have a good sense of how to bring Judaism to our marriage, especially in a way that would include, not exclude, my non-Jewish husband. I appreciated deeply his willingness to raise our children in my religion, and I was determined that it would never exclude him.
I hearkened back to one thing I remembered well from my own childhood... Shabbat. As I recall, we didn't celebrate it every Friday night. But on the Friday nights when we did, I remembered how it felt to see the candles lit, eat the challah and receive my parents' blessings. The memory was warm and reassuring. I also remembered, with some amusement, how, during the feminist revolution, my mother insisted on certain changes to the recitation of "A Woman of Worth" to include the concept of a woman honoring herself!
So, somewhat self-consciously, I instituted Shabbat in our home. At first, I simply bought challah; today, I have come to look forward to making it. At first, our rituals were very simple and brief — we would bless the candles, then have a short prayer over the wine and the challah. Today, we set the table with flowers, candles and a special challah plate for the fresh bread I have baked. When we sit down together, no matter how rushed or even quarrelsome we have been up to that moment, there's a peacefulness that comes over us. Maybe it's the way we turn the lights down, relying only on the Shabbat candles (and the many small candles that my daughter likes to arrange, circling the Shabbat candles). My children sing the blessing over the wine, as long a version as they can, and my eleven year old son likes the fact that after listening to his sister sing the wine prayers, he is now able to join in. My son leads the blessing over the bread and carefully measures out a small portion for each of us. And then, in our favorite part, we share with each other why we feel blessed that week.
Today, no one wants to miss out on Shabbat. Without making it a rule, none of us misses being home for that evening. And something about it, about the ancient Jewish prayers, about being linked to a worldwide tradition, about sharing it together, all of us, has truly brought the beauty and bond of Judaism into our intermarried home.