Every week seems to fly by faster than the one before it. As a result, it’s important to stop, slow down, and take time to reflect. Within the Jewish tradition this space to reflect is created on Shabbat, also known as the day of rest, which begins on Friday at sunset and continues until Saturday at sunset.
Shabbat has played an important role in my life as a busy Jewish professional, and even more so as I got married and wanted to create unique family rituals with my husband, Alan. Now as a new mother I want to impart the practices of blessings, gratitude, and giving onto my daughter Ava as she grows up in our home. It is important for us to have a structure that allows us to appreciate what we have every week. Shabbat gives us time to spend time together as a family and reflect on the good that we have created.
Whether or not you’re Jewish, here are seven ways families can incorporate the rituals and mindfulness of Shabbat to create a space to rest and reflect:
1) SHARE A MEAL TOGETHER
Think of the best dinner party you ever went to or a multicourse meal where you sat there luxuriously enjoying your food. The idea behind Shabbat is that you have no place to be. You can take as long as you want to enjoy each others’ company and the meal itself. This is a “no cell phones at the dinner table” kind of space. One way to do this with kids is to get them involved in the food that is served. If you have more than one kid, rotate who gets to pick the special meal that week; or one can pick the dessert and the other can pick the main course. Kids can get involved in preparing the food as well! If cooking isn’t your thing, ordering a pizza is fine too. Making it a “special” meal that everyone looks forward to is the main goal.
2) THINK ABOUT THE ACCOMPLISHMENTS YOU ACHIEVED DURING THE WEEK
Friday evening is a great time to sit back and reflect on all that happened during the week. Go around the table and have each family member say something that they are proud of or thankful for that happened that week. For older kids, this will be a time to share what happened during their week, and for kids who can’t yet talk, you may want to think of an accomplishment to share for them. Everyone gets their own chance to share; parents too!
3) MAKE SPACE FOR GRATITUDE AND BLESSINGS
Shabbat is full of many blessings. The blessings all have the same theme: thanking God for the bread, wine, and day of rest. There is a special blessing that is given to children before the Friday night meal as well. This blessing asks God to grant the child the characteristics of their ancestors. A way in which I invite parents to engage with this ritual is to think of a prayer or hope they have for their children for the coming week. You can say this aloud to each child or whisper it in their ear so it feels like a secret you share just with them.
4) APPRECIATE THE ABUNDANCE IN YOUR LIFE
Just as the meal is to be luxurious, so can everything else. This is a day when you can be fancy, even if you are staying at home. Kids can be invited to wear whatever makes them feel fancy and fun! Have them pick their outfits for dinnertime. The more fun, the better.
5) PARTICIPATE IN HELPING OTHERS
Each week before Shabbat begins, there is a practice of collecting money in a box to be given to charity. The box is known as a tzedakah box, and the word literally means “justice” or “righteousness.” The way in which my family does this is we empty our loose change into the box everyday. It is important for kids to recognize the power of giving to those in need, even if it is a small amount. There may be a charity that you research together to figure out where to give the money once you have collected enough to donate. Having the kids pick something they care about and giving to an organization or individual helps them realize they are part of a larger community that takes care of one another.
6) HAVE FUN AS A FAMILY!
Remember when families had game nights that didn’t involve technology? Shabbat is a great time to play old fashioned board games, or spend longer than usual reading bedtime stories. Go for a walk or to the park together. Make space to enjoy one another’s company. Maybe you have a puzzle you work on as a family, or a simple art project. If you are really strapped for ideas, you can always watch a movie together. The emphasis is to put down your individual devices and do something fun all together, which you might not have time to do during a hectic week.
The best part! Shabbat is all about prepping beforehand so that once Friday evening hits, you can simply sit back and enjoy the 24 hours of time together. Going to bed early after a long Friday meal or napping on Saturday during the day are all par for the course in the nature of observing Shabbat. Try to take the pressure off yourself to make plans on Saturday and don’t feel guilty about spending the time at home. Take a load off and let time become expansive for the one day.
Elyssa Cherney is a full-time student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. She has worked most recently as the Rabbinic Intern at Temple Judea in Bucks County, PA. Elyssa is a graduate of Brandeis University. She is thinking deeply about marking time through rituals big and small.