So you agreed, for some very good and personal reasons, to raise your children Jewish. You made this all-important final decision. Maybe you converted, maybe you didn’t, and now the children have arrived. You are confident that your Jewish husband will now step up and take the lead in your family’s observances of Jewish traditions and holidays since he is the one who was raised Jewish. Okay, you can stop laughing now. I’m just kidding. If you’re crying and not laughing, don’t worry.
Here’s a tip. You don’t have to know a lot about Judaism to get started. All you need to do is to be one step ahead of the kids. Chances are you are already there. You know when the Sabbath is observed in Judaism, right? The Sabbath, called Shabbat (Shabbat is the Hebrew word for Sabbath), begins Friday night and ends Saturday night. Boom, you’re there. You have your starting point. Start with Shabbat.
I’ll tell you a secret, starting with Shabbat is like starting dinner with dessert first. Shabbat is fabulous. Of all I have learned about Judaism through the years, Shabbat is hands down the best. I read somewhere once that it is not so much that the Jewish people have kept Shabbat, but Shabbat has kept the Jewish people. What does that mean? I think it means that Shabbat is about slowing down and looking inward and reminding myself that I am not the center of the universe. God has given me talents and a purpose in life. It is important for me to be open to discovering and cultivating these talents to be a successful cog in the wheel. Shabbat is a gift from God every week to slow down and repair what needs to be repaired, learn what I need to learn, and rest my body and mind so that I will be in good enough shape to take on all the activities and work that lie ahead until Shabbat comes around again.
My son William is seven years old. He is in first grade. I have noticed over the past couple of months that he gets pretty cranky on Friday afternoons, more so than at any other time. It isn’t hunger. One day it hit me, he is tired. He has been very busy all week with school and being seven and he is worn out. I drew a bath for him and used my special soothing lavender bubble bath and even attached my bath pillow so he could relax. At first he was very surprised with the bubble bath but when he got in all the stress and discord melted away. He relaxed in the tub, I finished preparing dinner, and we had a Shabbat Shalom, a peaceful Shabbat. Now he takes a Friday night bubble bath once or twice a month and when he gets in, I tell him to hang in there, Shabbat will be here soon!
How do you welcome the Sabbath bride? I wasn’t sure at first so I searched Shabbat on youtube.com. I watched a family sing a song, wash their hands, light two candles, say a few prayers, and begin dinner. I thought, I can do that. So I did. I relied on my trusty book, To Be a Jew by Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin for the prayers translated in English of course. So began our family observance of Shabbat. William was two years old. I wanted to begin a Shabbat observance at home at that time because William started preschool at Gan Yeladim (Garden of Children) and I thought it was time to incorporate some Jewish observances at home to reinforce what he was learning at school.
My favorite Shabbat resource guide is the book, The Modern Jewish Mom’s Guide to Shabbat: Connect and Celebrate. Bring Your Family Together with the Friday Night Meal by Meredith L. Jacobs. It’s actually one of my favorite books of all time. I think it lived on my nightstand the first two years I had it. I still take it out all the time, either for her challah recipe or to review the current week’s Torah portion. In this book, Meredith Jacobs breaks down all the elements of Shabbat and shows you how to incorporate the Shabbat observance in small ways (baby steps) at home and then how you can “take it to the next level.” This book also has one of my favorite stories. Meredith Jacobs tells the story of a rabbi talking about Shabbat. He asks you to imagine a book. Now think of how many sides a book has. You may say six, a top and bottom, a front and back and two sides. But there is one more side. The seventh side is the inside and that’s where all the important information about the book is located. All week we are on the outside of the book. On the seventh day of the week, we are called to go inside. Such genius!