Hug Often

By Heather Seith

February 2008


The first time we lit candles at home it was because I wanted to use my wedding china. I picked up a rotisserie chicken, bought a challah and some wine, and made a salad. I set up my serving trays, my crystal candlesticks and the Kiddush cup that my parents gave us for our wedding. I said the blessing over the candles, the wine and the challah. Rich and I then had some of the wine and challah, and we also had time for conversation. Then we went to services.

I had fun. Rich was willing to humor me, and he seemed to like our special dinner. So I decided to do it the next week as well. Rich likes his challah with honey, and I figured why save the honey for Rosh Hashanah? So, the next week we had challah and we added honey, both because Rich wanted to and because Shabbat is sweet.

When I was growing up, my family had always gone to temple for the High Holy Days, and we had celebrated Purim, Pesach, Sukkot and Hanukkah. We did not always light Shabbat candles. My husband was raised Catholic. He had been exposed to Judaism through his friends and my family’s celebrations. He learned early in our relationship that my Judaism was an important part of my identity, but he hadn’t ever seen me celebrate Shabbat on a regular basis. When we started celebrating Shabbat we did what felt right for us.

Somehow we kept adding things to our little Shabbat celebrations. First, Rich’s parents gave us a pair of beautiful pewter candlesticks with blue and white stones and white doves. Then we bought a challah tray and a matching honey dish. It became our little Shabbat ritual to eat challah and chat. I started to really anticipate our weekly celebrations.

Rich and I work together: we are ophthalmologists in our own practice. As we became busier in our office, we found we didn’t get out in time to go home, light candles and then go to services. I started to pick up my challah on Thursday nights. I brought a wine glass and candlesticks to work. On Friday nights after we finished seeing patients, Rich and I would sit at his desk. I would pour the grape juice (we did’t want to bring wine to work) and light the candles. Then I would say the blessing over the candles, the wine and the challah. Finally, Rich and I would eat and talk until it was time to go to services. I knew Rich was beginning to look forward to our Shabbat time together when, at one point, he declared himself a “challah connoisseur.” He noted that he could definitely tell a really good challah from one that was just so-so.

Things went on that way for a while. We had our candles and challah, I said the blessings, then we went to services. One day after services Rich said, “I like the hug often prayer.” I didn’t know what he was talking about. So he explained that before the wine we would always say the “hug often” prayer. As he listened to the Hebrew prayer each week he picked up on the phrase “boray p’ree hagofen.” The similarity to the English words “hug often” was amusing to him. He made it clear that he was all in favor of affection, and hugging often was all right by him.

Rich learned the Kiddush, the blessing over the wine, pretty quickly. Baruch atah Adonai elohaynu melech haolam boray p’ree Hug Often.

Now when we have our Shabbat time, Rich says the blessing over the wine. Boray p’ree Hug Often? (hug, hug, hug). He has even gone up on the bima and said Kiddush for the congregation. Our temple’s vice president gave me a big thumbs up sign when Rich recited the prayer in Hebrew. She was impressed.

My favorite Shabbats are those when we get off from work a little early, go home and settle in a little. Then I get out the candlesticks from Rich’s parents, our wedding Kiddush cup from my parents, the challah plate which I bought and the honey plate which is Rich’s addition to our Shabbat tradition. I say the blessing over the candles; Rich says the blessing over the wine. After hamotzi (the blessing over the challah) we hollow out our challah together. We truly have created a tradition which we have made our own.

And we never forget to hug often.


About Heather Seith

Heather Seith and Richard Seith are ophthalmologists who live in Florida. Their families suffer through the snow each winter in New York and New Jersey.