When I was growing up, my family and I celebrated Shabbat almost every week. My memories of the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of our Friday night dinners together have always stayed with me.
I remember the roasted chicken and steaming veges waiting on the stovetop while we welcomed in Shabbat. My mom's high singing voice blessing the candles, my dad's serious voice reciting the Kiddush (the blessing over the wine), the warm glow of the flames, the sweet syrupy sips of Manishevitz.
The challah would sit patiently under cover while the candles and wine got their turn. You would think it was hidden to stop kids like myself from grabbing at it, or to keep it moist, but I was told it was “to spare it’s feelings about being last to be blessed”. Maybe that’s why each of these ritual objects seemed to have a life of their own. Not only did they play an important role at Shabbat dinner, they had feelings that could be hurt!
After taking the cover off of the challah, either me or one of my sisters would sing the Motzei (the blessing over the challah). Dad would cut thick slices (but then halve them), lightly salt and then pass them around the table till we all had a chunk of our own. Mmmmm.
If we had finished eating our dinner we could be excused from the table, and were called back again for benching (the blessing after the meal). As I sung along, I liked to run my finger really fast through the candle flames and marvel at how I didn’t get burned. We’d finish with an energetic, table thumping version of “Shabbat”, a song with only three words: shabbat, shalom and hey!
Friday night dinners made Shabbat into something to look forward to. The rituals (and short explanations) were enough for me to feel the specialness of Shabbat. But when I went off to college, I'd only spend the occasional Friday evening at Hillel, and when I lived in NYC during my 20's and 30's, I barely thought twice about celebrating Shabbat.
It was when I had my own kids, however, that my memories of celebrating Shabbat with my family resurfaced, and made me want to share the same wonderful experience with them.
Today, roasted chicken and steaming veges wait on the stove while I (or one of my children) light the candles. My family and I celebrate Shabbat just as I did when I was growing up. When my kids have grown and leave home for college, they may or may not attend Hillel, and in their post-college years they may or may not even think about Shabbat. But it's my hope that their memories of our Friday night dinners together will stay with them always, and perhaps resurface as they did for me, making them want to celebrate Shabbat with their own kids.