Readers tell how they turn Saturday into Shabbat – The Forward
A rabbi prepares a special hot chocolate for his sons, topped with sweets depicting stories from the Torah. A woman walks out to meet friends at a movie screening or a bluegrass concert, buying tickets in advance to avoid using cash on Shabbat. Another spends her Saturdays doing genealogical research on her ancestors.
A fourth Forward reader marks the Jewish day of rest by simply not setting an alarm: “I sleep as late as I want,” Dodi Fromson explained.
Jewish law prohibits working 25 hours a week, from sunset Friday until three stars appear in the night sky Saturday, to mark the biblical notion that God created the world in six days and rested the seventh. Many observant Jews abstain not only from work, but from anything that hints at creation – lighting a stove or using technology, traveling or carrying personal items – and spend the day largely in prayer and meals with family or friends.
But Shabbat doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. In a recent column about an Israeli chef who closed his cafe in Montclair, New Jersey, on Saturday to give his employees a break, our editor, Jodi Rudoren, shared her own bumpy journey to find some ways to score consistently throughout the day. She asked readers to share the sacred (or not) rituals they use to turn Saturday into Shabbat.
Here is a selection of your responses, slightly edited for length and clarity.:
The small things
Wear a white shirt on Friday nights and on Shabbat. (I got this from my son, who spent two years in a yeshiva in Israel.)
Watch the Central Synagogue’s Saturday morning service. Watch TV shows. No work-related webinars.
stay kosher on Shabbat, remembering that it was a different day. Listen to opera on the radio in the afternoon (from about 12 years old). Always had dessert in the living room when I was a kid because my dad wasn’t allowed to smoke in the dining room where the candles were burning and he liked to smoke with his coffee.
Teaching our children to love Shabbat is one of our family’s top priorities. About eight years ago, my sons developed a love for hot chocolate. While making their Shabbat morning drink one week, I had a mouth-watering idea to mix their sweet treat with a platform to make Shabbat more fun. That very morning, we started a family tradition that we call “Special Hot Chocolate”.
Each Shabbat morning, our sons receive chocolate creations on their mugs depicting scenes from that week’s Torah party or an upcoming Jewish holiday. Some of our favorites have been Noah’s Ark, Abraham and Sarah’s Tent, and “Man Overboard” in honor of Jonah (the week before Yom Kippur).
When we read the Ten Commandments, the boys are given two slabs of chocolate commemorating the two tablets.
Before the first morsel is eaten, our sons are asked to decipher what they see. The truth is, the sweetest ingredient in Special Hot Chocolate isn’t the candy, but seeing our sons engaged in Torah learning, stimulating imagination and interpretation.
The idea of making Jewish life and learning enjoyable has deep roots in Jewish tradition. There is a custom of placing honey on the first page of the Torah when children’s learning begins. We want our son’s association with Shabbat, Torah and Jewish life to always be associated with sweetness and joy.
—Rabbi Charles E. Savenor
Jews everywhere repent on Yom Kippur by reciting a confessional: “For the sin I have committed by…”. In a modern version of the liturgy, we asked our readers of the past two years to share the individual sins for which they repent: talking instead of listening, driving instead of taking public transport, being impatient, passing too much time on social media.
Send yours to [email protected]subject line: Sins.
Cleaning, thinking and sleeping late
My mother never cleaned on Saturdays when I was growing up, although when my sister and I were old enough to take care of ourselves, my mother worked in my father’s jewelry store every day except Sunday.
When I worked I cleaned the house on Saturdays, but now that I’m retired Saturday is my genealogy day, trying to document my ancestors and trace their descendants.
—Karen Calmon Lukeman
For starters, I don’t set the alarm and sleep as late as I want. Breakfast can be shakshuka or blintzes. It will be an unhurried day, mostly reading newspapers from the week I couldn’t finish. He may or may not check his email, although I have several friends who won’t touch their computers, iPads, or iPhones on Shabbat.
It’s just a slower day with no rush or set agenda. And it’s definitely a day of reflection.
Do not touch the computer. Very important. Also, I serve my husband a formal Shabbat lunch. Sometimes I even go to mincha (the afternoon prayer service), which was very important on June 25, 2022, the day after Roe v. Wade, and I was able to study something else for an hour instead of just sitting and thinking.
I grew up with Shabbat observed for only a few hours, so when I entered into marriage with a Modern Orthodox woman, I was afraid of falling behind in my intense college career by observing a 25-hour Shabbat. I was surprised and thrilled that my leap of faith helped me be more productive, focused, and fulfilled than I could have imagined.
—Larry Lesser, El Paso, TX
Welcoming the stranger — at the store
My father owned a small grocery store in southern New Jersey. He left for work at 8 a.m. and returned at 11 p.m. My older sister went to Hebrew school, and I took two years later. We were four children in all. We were encouraged to attend Sabbath services, but not required.
My father worked on Saturdays and my mother did not accompany us. She kept kosher and lit Sabbath candles on Friday nights. As each of us went our own way on Friday night, eventually Mom stopped lighting the candles.
When I was 8 years old, instead of rushing me to go to synagogue on Saturdays, my father asked me if I wanted to go work with him. He taught me how to take inventory and give change. When there were no customers, we played a game: he wrote big numbers on the back of a paper bag while I put them in the adding machine—he always beat the machine to find the total.
I watched my father interact with customers, the mutual respect shared with regulars. In the summer, he helped Puerto Rican migrant workers and spoke with them the Spanish he had learned in Cuba, where he had spent two childhood years before being allowed to enter the United States.
Sometimes they came to the store just to enjoy a safe place. Dad was handing out free sodas all around. I had one too, and watched, listened, and learned the Jewish values of welcoming the stranger and treating others as you wish to be treated.
“Judaism is my focal point”
My Shabbats are steeped in connection. Last week, I walked 3.5 miles to join other members of my upstate New York bungalow colony in listening to bluegrass at a community center. We are a mixture of Jews and non-Jews, and I am the only one who observes Shabbat; as my neighbors were driving to the concert, they stopped along the way to joke and chat with me as I walked.
Tonight we will prepare Shabbat dinner early and I will also light the candles early. One of my upstate neighbors is the editor of “Four Winters,” a Holocaust film screened remotely from our East Village apartment. I have already bought tickets and they will be at the box office and with friends from the bungalow we will watch the film and honor the editor.
Then we’ll walk to a gathering to celebrate, then I’ll walk home, up the stairs to our sixth-floor apartment, and know that I’ve observed Shabbat and brought joy to a friend.
I know some would say I wasn’t giving kavod (respect) on Shabbat, but I would disagree. For me, Judaism is my practice, my focus and I always find ways to be true to my faith while joining the community. Tomorrow, on Shabbat, I will be walking to our synagogue in Brooklyn Heights (also a three and a half mile hike – I love walking) and spending time learning with my Lubavitch rabbi, davening, helping with kiddush and connect with another group of friends.
Opera on the radio
I grew up in the 1940s in Saint-Louis. We lived above our father’s haberdashery in the center of town, about 30 blocks from the Jewish quarter. Every Shabbat, I spent the days with my beloved grandparents.
My grandfather was editor of the Yiddish newspaper and secretary of the Orthodox management committee. Every Shabbat morning, we attended services at the nearby Orthodox synagogue. At noon precisely, we left the services in progress for a magnificent lunch.
At 1 p.m. we retired to the living room and zayde turned on the big radio for the New York Metropolitan Opera show, featuring Milton Cross. It was the beginning of my love for opera and to this day Shabbat afternoon is still opera on the radio.
Summon an Ancient Sage
In my house, the Shabbat traditions of Rebbe of Potzker are followed. For example, his challah ritual: Each week, after the first bite of challah, the Rebbe would stop, marvel at a glass of water, take a satisfying sip, and declare, “Much of this water is older than all our solar energy. system: WOW!”
He would then add a few drops of vitamin D (which he called “liquid sunshine”) to the next piece of challah and proclaim, “L’chaim — at 120! (a reference to the optimal vitamin D blood level of 120 nanomoles per liter and the biblical age of Moses).
He taught then: “The power of Shabbat comes from the stars. As we mark the “setting” of our star on Friday evening, we celebrate its powers to support our bodies. On Saturday evening, as the stars emerge, we celebrate their potential to support our imagination. The essence of Shabbat is to resonate with and restore the sense of wonder and amazement that lies at the heart of the imagination that sustains human experience. Until the departure of Shabbat, discover what came to you effortlessly in your childhood. Have a wonderful Shabbat.
The Rebbe, being human, struggled the rest of the week to maintain the blessings he had captured on Shabbat, daily looking forward to his next opportunity for a Shabbat adventure in the imagination.