During the first week of social distancing, I was thrilled that we had more than enough time to bake challah as a family. (Here’s our favorite recipe, but we also love following along with our good friends Stephanie and Rabbi David Eshel).
So many of our friends — including some who rarely celebrate Shabbat — posted pictures of the challah they made on social media. I thought to myself, “Perhaps coronavirus is inspiring more families to realize and understand the beauty of Shabbat! (Or, at least, those families that could track down flour and yeast!)”
I mean, isn’t Shabbat all about spending time with family and slowing down? And isn’t that what we’re doing all day, every day?
But here we are, seven weeks into self-isolation, and I have a confession: Coronavirus has made me mad at Shabbat. I typically love so much of what Shabbat stands for — spending quality time with family and friends, taking a break from the stressors of the work week, and feeling gratitude for the world around me. And even though we’re not particularly observant, I’ve worked hard to bring this appreciation for Shabbat to my family. Now, however, I can’t seem to connect the values of Shabbat with our new social-distancing reality.
Shabbat is meant to be a separate and sacred time — a period that stands apart from our typical world of chaos. Well, let’s be honest: Our lives have gotten pretty monotonous. How can we make Shabbat sacred when days run together and I barely know what month it is, let alone what day it is?
Shabbat is supposed to be a time when we forget the world around us, ignore bad news, and dream and hope for a better and more just world. Ignoring the world around me feels a little irresponsible these days. It seems like every day brings shifting state and local guidelines and new CDC recommendations, and I feel a responsibility, as a parent, to stay as updated as possible. I must admit I am also constantly checking my email for news from my children’s camps and school (please don’t cancel camp!).
Shabbat recalls the creation of the world and is our day of rest. These days, rest seems like so much less of a necessity, since I haven’t really left home in weeks. I’m done with all this resting! I’m ready to go out and enjoy the beautiful world God created.
Plus, for me, the best part of Shabbat is surrounding myself with friends and family. And now I can’t even do that. While I love and appreciate the Zoom Shabbats we’ve had with friends and family, it just isn’t the same.
It seems the logical conclusion would be that Shabbat and coronavirus just don’t mix well. But, still, I’m just not ready to give up on Shabbat quite yet. After all, even in isolation, Shabbat is still about family — even if it is just my immediate family and we’ve been getting on each other’s nerves a bit more than usual. Shabbat teaches us gratitude — we say blessings for a reason, right? — and perhaps, above all, Shabbat is meant to be a time of delight.
So, instead of dwelling on what isn’t working, I’m trying to refocus and reimagine Shabbat to fit into our new reality. I’ve decided to double down and focus on the importance of Shabbat as a time of joy, delight, gratitude, and family. Here’s what I’m planning for the next few Friday nights, and hopefully these ideas will inspire you, too.
1. Cook an old family recipe.
Pull out a treasured family recipe — or ask a parent or grandparent for one — and cook it together as a family. Ask your parents or grandparents where it comes from. Tell your children about the memories you have eating the dish while growing up.
2. Watch an old home movie.
Yep, it’s time to pull out your old wedding DVD! Or perhaps it’s time to rewatch your daughter’s first dance recital, or your son’s first steps? (For those that avoid technology on Shabbat, I recommend TABLETOPICS as a fun alternative.)
3. Spread Shabbat joy!
Commit yourself to baking challah not only for your family but for a neighbor as well. I can’t tell you how much this kindness will mean to someone else.
4. Shabbat scavenger hunt.
I’m guessing your kids loved finding the afikomen on Passover. Now it’s time to find the Shabbat symbols! Before dinner, hide some Shabbat symbols that you have in the house (candlesticks, Kiddush cup, challah cover, etc.). I also recommend hiding a bag of candy to make this Shabbat even sweeter! You can simply have your kids search, or play a game of “Hot and Cold” to help them locate everything your family will need for Shabbat.
5. Tell your kids how much you love them.
My favorite part of the short Shabbat service is the blessing over the children. It’s going to take a little work on my part, but I’m going to write a very specific blessing for my 9-year-old son, Josh, and my 11-year-old daughter, Noa. I’m going to remind them of the many reasons they make me proud every day, but especially during these trying and difficult times.
In the end, I’ve decided to give Shabbat another chance. We aren’t breaking up just yet. Wishing you and your family a Shabbat Shalom!