I had been thinking about it all week. Josh was out of town for work, and for the first time in a long time, he wouldn’t be home for Shabbat. It would be my job to make Shabbat.
Seeing as how Josh and I have been lighting candles on Friday nights since we first moved into together nearly 12 years ago, this should be no big deal, right?
I had never led the blessings by myself before–I always had Josh to back me up–and I had never blessed the girls before. That’s his job. I wasn’t sure I could do it. I didn’t really want to do it. I thought about just not telling the girls it was Friday night. But Frieda woke up that morning asking if it was Friday, if we were going to do Shabbat, if she was going to get her beloved Shabbos guacamole and chips. (I’m from New Mexico. Work with me here.) Then I thought about telling them that we don’t do Shabbat unless the whole family is with us. But I realized I had just been away for a week, and Josh did it without me, so that wasn’t going to fly.
I had to step up.
As soon as I got home on Friday from dropping the girls off at preschool and running to the grocery store and bakery for avocados and our favorite challah, I found our bencher. I flipped through the pages until I found the blessings for the candles, the wine, the challah, and the children. I knew I knew them by heart, but I wanted to have them there just in case.
That afternoon, I made dinner while the girls set the table. I set out the wine, the girls got out the silver Kiddush cups (“Only three this week, girls! Daddy’s not home yet!”), and I lifted each girl up so she could put a candle in our pewter candlesticks. We turned down the lights, and I carefully lit each candle and prepared to sing the blessing.
My mind went blank.
After spending nearly a third of my life singing the same blessing every week, it was gone. Nothing. Nada. I took a deep breath, and in that moment, the words came back to me. Baruch atah… Ok, so I had that. But no melody. That just wouldn’t come, and of course I couldn’t find it in the bencher.
I had no idea how to start the blessing, but I started anyway. I’m not sure what ended up coming out–some odd mix of the Friday night melody and the holiday melody with a bit of “I have no idea what I’m doing, just get me through this” mixed in at the end. It was, to my ears, a mess. I have no idea what the girls thought, or if they even noticed. I certainly did.
We sat down at the table, and I pulled out the bencher for the long borei p’ri. After my abysmal performance with the candles, my confidence was shaken. The rest of the blessings went fairly well–I remembered the melodies, and even blessed the girls for the first time, grateful that I didn’t have to sing it. As soon as we got to the end, just as their little hands were sinking into the warm challah and ripping off huge chunks, my 4-year-old leaned over and said, “I wish Daddy was here.”
“Me too, kiddo. Me, too.”
I wish there was some happy ending to share, something about how I succeeded just by trying, but I didn’t feel that way. I wish I could focus on how I did the right thing, even when I didn’t want to. Perhaps that’s true, but the deeper truth is that it felt… terrible. I was brought back to the first time I sat in a synagogue at my cousin’s bar mitzvah and opened the Siddur the wrong way. I was brought back to the first weeks and months I spent in Saturday morning Torah services at our own synagogue, struggling to follow along with the prayers and songs. Once again, I was attending my first Yom Kippur services, bored, confused, hungry, and sure that everyone around me just knew that I didn’t belong. Even if they didn’t, I did.
It is incredibly painful to be reminded that I am an immigrant to this community, that I will speak Judaism with a thick accent for the rest of my life. I’m learning to accept that, and focus on what I can change–the next generation. And so, no matter how awkward and difficult it is, I will keep singing and forgetting and stumbling through the blessings, with my husband or on my own, until my girls are old enough to help me remember the melody.