What Shabbat Means to Me

Our family passion for Shabbat included doing jigsaw puzzles and playing games, but our love for the meaning to be found in lighting Shabbat candles together still exceeds them all.

Getty Images
Getty Images

As a child, Shabbat was always special in our home—we got dressed for dinner, we often had company—and when my mom lit the Shabbat candles I could see and feel the glow that surrounded her.  I was always sad that they were finished by the time we went to sleep. It is a memory that has lasted for almost 80 years and I cherish it. My dad, as a kosher butcher, always made sure that our Shabbat dinner had something special, be it sweetbreads, a capon or some beautiful lamb roast.  My mom made everything taste special and those recipes still live on in our house as well as those of our children and grandchildren.

Since I grew up in the day when getting married during your senior year of college was not only acceptable but admired by most, Eliot and I were married in December of 1961. I actually moved from my parents’ home to our own, anxious to begin our own Jewish rituals in a home that we were both dedicated to making a meaningful and happy Jewish journey, based on much of the traditions from our own parents’ homes.  I am pleased to report that we both believe that we have been successful on so many levels, but especially around kashrut and Shabbat.

As I look back on the past 58+ years I realize how very special Shabbat has always been and as our family increased by adding three daughters, lighting the Shabbat candles was the start of a very special day in our week.  As a working mom, I relished the 24 hours that we began by together singing the special blessings for our Shabbat candles, swaying gently together as we covered our eyes to recite them. The girls loved listening to their abba, their father, as he clicked his tongue in time to the tune.  The meal was always special, chicken soup being the first course, no matter what the main course turned out to be—chicken, roast beef or veal—with either potato or noodle kugel, as my whim dictated. Fresh melon or grapefruit always cleansed our palate for dessert. This dinnertime was unique for us as we could retell the stories of our individual week’s special activities, or just something that was meaningful to each of us.  Sometimes we would go to our synagogue if there was something special happening, or else we just enjoyed each other’s company, knowing that in the morning we would be there, sharing our prayers, learning to read Torah and Megillot, leading services for our friends…and just having fun.

With the advent of five grandchildren, the circle of candle lighters has grown, as they too surround the candle lighter, be it eema/mother, dodah/aunt or savta, their grandmother.  In my heart’s eye I can see my mother and my mother-in-law, watching and kvelling as we took their traditions and made them our own, two generations away. And yes, Sabba Eliot still clicks his tongue as an accompaniment to the singing of the prayers.

This past Passover I experienced a new tradition, as we were in Israel for the first time in over 60 trips during this family centered holiday.  The Friday night before Passover we joined a Kehilat Moreshet Avraham annual tradition of a congregational shabbat dinner before services. Everyone brought their specialty and so we had a very different menu than our usual fare.  Vegetarians and gluten free eaters were delighted to find so much protein in their options! We had delicious middle eastern chicken, five different kugels—noodle and potato–rice dishes galore, huge salads with fruit and berries with homemade honey mustard dressing, and so many cakes and cookies plus fruits and melon for dessert I really wanted to start there!  Lighting our Shabbat candles with so many families was such an uplifting experience as it multiplied our individual joy, with women of all ages, some with families, others without welcomed the Shabbat together. The warm and special glow of the small candles was so overwhelming for me, as our synagogue “family” shared their Shabbat love. The conversations at dinner were warm and welcoming as everyone spoke of their week’s adventures.  It reminded me of my own experiences in New Jersey all of these years.

Our family passion for Shabbat included doing jigsaw puzzles and playing games while keeping score on the fattest book we could find, but our love for the meaning and emotions to be found in lighting Shabbat candles together still exceeds them all.

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