Living in the same home with my observant grandparents meant that our lives revolved around the Jewish calendar. Time was measured by the weekly Shabbos and the holidays—the usual expression in the Fall for planning things was “nuch dem yoim toivim/after the holidays.” In the Spring it was “Oy, I have to get ready for Pesah, and preparations began weeks in advance for the eight-day observance, and especially for our two noisy seders.
Shabbos came every week, and while there was chicken soup to be cooked from a freshly plucked chicken, a kitchen floor to be washed, then covered with newspaper to keep it clean (don’t ask me the logic of that one), and hard star-shaped sugar cookies to be baked, all became quiet when Zayda left for shul and Grandma and I blessed the Shabbos candles.
Her petite body, hair neatly tucked in a bun, a fresh dress and no apron to cover it, she jauntily put a white yarmulke on her head, waved her hands over the nine candles—one for each of her children and two for her and Zayda—brought them to her face, and said the blessings. She stood for a few minutes, face covered, and when she turned to me to say “A guten Shabbos” her face glowed with peace. The separation from the ordinary to the day of rest had begun.
I abandoned the practice for years UNTIL I had a family of my own. Luckily I inherited the brass candlesticks Grandma and Zayda received for their wedding in 1910, and I began to light them, first those two and one more for our eldest son, Steven. When our second son came along I added yet another candle. Finally, with the addition of our twin daughters, we numbered six and six candles were lit every week.
The frenetic pace of our household calmed down for a short while when we said “Shabbat shalom” to each other, then Marv and I kissed and we kissed the children. They often hugged, there was no teasing and no fighting. Shabbat dinners followed which became sacred. Even when the kids were in high school and there were Friday night activities, they were home for Shabbat dinner. Some of their friends often joined us, and occasionally I’ll hear from one of their buddies with fond memories of sitting at our Shabbat table.
When we became empty-nesters Marv and I continued to light the candles together on Friday nights and often hosted Shabbat dinners for friends since our children were not nearby. They were remarkable times with erudite discussions. Many people had never celebrated Shabbat and enjoyed the new experience with us. Several reciprocated.
For the past seven years, as a widow, it has been difficult to maintain the practice of lighting candles, especially because it is the only time I ever feel alone. I searched for activities, such as chamber music concerts, open mikes, and other things, but there are still many Friday evenings I sit home alone AND I light the Shabbat candles. I place a photo of my mother and me next to the candlesticks, wave my hands over the lights, and for a few seconds in time I’m the little girl standing next to Grandma.
Now, sheltering-in-place, and the new reality, I lit the Shabbat candles with my children. We Zoomed in and for five minutes Julie joined us from Cheyenne, Wyoming; Louis and Andrea, Sydney and Aidan from Panasquitas; and Steven, who couldn’t make the link, joined us in spirit.
From lemons we make lemonade, and from sheltering in place we find a silver lining. We’re going to try it again this week, and hopefully, Steven will link in and anyone reading this may join us at 6:00 PM PST to usher in the day of separation from the ordinary to the holy.
I continue to pray for all of our health care workers, for RBG and for all of you…stay healthy and safe.