One night, at dinner, my 3-year-old son suddenly said “Shabbat Shalom.” My husband and I both looked up with a start. I quickly managed to put together that it had been music class day at his school (which is at a temple) and he was repeating “Shabbat Shalom” from a song he had learned. This led to a conversation about Shabbat. He has only experienced it at my parents’ house and one Tot Shabbat at his school. We figured we would “do” Shabbat, eventually, when the kids got older and it was more important to their Jewish learning. He wanted to do it now.
As I cobbled together an impromptu Shabbat, trying to remember which candlesticks we used and realizing we had no wine or grape juice, I suddenly remembered a Kiddush cup that my son had received at his bris. I substituted in a juice box and poured it elegantly into our wine glasses and his Kiddush cup. As my son has an egg allergy and I didn’t have eggless challah, I substituted a piece of bread on the challah plate. It all felt very shoddy and like I was letting him down. We said the prayers, which he knew part of from the Hanukkah prayers but he wouldn’t even say the part he knew. However, he eventually sang “Shabbat Shalom” at the top of his lungs on his way to bed.
The following week, I had things a little bit more prepared when he asked if we were going to do Shabbat. I had gotten a bottle of sparkling cider and, while I had forgotten the eggless challah again, we went to the store to get a bialy to serve as our challah. He was much more excited this time, getting his stool set up in front of the counter before I had even put the candles out. He still didn’t say the prayers, declared the sparking cider to be “spicy,” and asked for the juice box juice in his Kiddush cup instead. As for me, I felt a little better about the whole thing and thought that drinking sparkling cider added some adult decadence in our baby/toddler feeding dinners.
So, thanks to our son, we have done this every Friday for several weeks now. We have the prayers written out and I’ve almost gotten the eggless challah (available at International Foods on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope). Our son is starting to participate more: he kissed us all “Shabbat Shalom” last week and made sure his baby sister got some bialy, too. The ritual of it has sparked some conversation (i.e. “Why is Shabbat only on Friday night and Saturday?” and “Why don’t we blow the candles out?”). We anticipate that, as we continue, it may gain greater meaning to him. We just hope we can keep up.