These days, Shabbat is a part of my weekly routine – a time I long for on those crazy weekday afternoons when I’m behind on my ever-growing to do list. A time I relish for the opportunity to relax with friends and eat amazing food. But that wasn’t always the case. Until a few years ago, Shabbat felt like something that I couldn’t quite get my head and hands around. The rituals seemed overwhelming and the weekly commitment felt onerous. Slowly, incrementally – I’ve found my way to Shabbat, and now that I’ve found it, I’m keeping it!
Meredith Jacobs new book The Modern Jewish Mom’s Guide to Shabbat was written by Jacobs – a busy mother herself! – to help other moms (and the advice would work equally as well for dads) connect themselves and their families to Shabbat. Offering one part enthusiastic encouragement and one part practical advice (e.g. how to bake challah, Torah-based discussion questions for the dinner table) ,The Modern Jewish Mom’s Guide to Shabbat helps families make Shabbat – and spending time with one another – a weekly family tradition.
Below the jump: An interview with Meredith Jacobs and a chance to win a copy of her book!
Win a copy of The Modern Jewish Mom’s Guide to Shabbat. Tell us your favorite Shabbat ritual or memory by June 22 for a chance to win.
What is a Modern Jewish Mom?
A “Modern Jewish Mom” is any woman raising Jewish children while juggling the crazy schedules of modern life. And I’m not just talking about the basic after school activities, sports, career, volunteering, keeping up with the house kind of stuff. Modern moms also try to find ways to stay fit and healthy. We find ourselves pulled in so many different directions—friends, family, self. With all the demands put on us (actually that we put on ourselves) where does Judaism fit in?
What do you think is the number one reason holding families back from celebrating Shabbat together?
Knowing the kind of lifestyles we lead, sometimes it feels like making a Shabbat dinner is just one more task on our plate. It can feel overwhelming. It’s easy to say, “I’m exhausted. Let’s just order out and we’ll do Shabbat next week.” But then we find ourselves saying this week after week and we look back and we’ve never had that Shabbat dinner we kept promising ourselves and our families. Through my book, I hope to relieve some of the stress surrounding keeping our traditions. Saying, it’s okay to NOT do everything right away. Keeping dinner simple and focusing on what’s meaningful – being with family, blessing our children – the things that do not require any prep work
What does a typical Shabbat dinner look and feel like for your family?
When we have guests we eat in the dining room, but a typical Shabbat dinner is usually around the kitchen table. Still, I try to make the table look a little more special – clearing away the piles of homework, paperwork and newspapers that tend to accumulate. I put pretty chargers under the plates (I have a set that looks like grass that I use in the Spring and Summer and a set that is made of wood that I like for Winter and Fall.) I pick up flowers at the supermarket or cut some fresh flowers from the backyard if they’re in bloom and the deer haven’t eaten all of them.
I usually make dinner every night, but I make a special point of making a lovely dinner for Shabbat. That doesn’t mean chicken soup and brisket. I’ll make tuna steaks with fresh, homemade mango salsa. Or grilled salmon and roasted tomatoes. Whatever is fresh and in season. And, what I think really sets the mood is the homemade challah. Even if I make the dough in the morning, I don’t put it in the oven until an hour before dinner so everyone comes to the table smelling the challah. Seriously, nothing is better than challah right out of the oven! We don’t even cut it—we just yank hunks off throughout the meal. (I always stop my family from digging into the second loaf so we have some left over for challah French toast!)
I’ve found that, no matter what food is on the table, it’s the conversations we have at dinner that really make the meal. We do use the Torah portion as a discussion starter and have really interesting conversations with our children. That’s what really makes the night different and special. I could make a nice dinner any other night of the week—it’s what we talk about and how we connect that makes our Friday nights special.
What is your favorite MJM Shabbat tip?
Focus on lighting the candles and blessing your children (and each other) and REALLY talking.
Modern Jewish Mom’s Guide to Shabbat focuses on Friday night dinner. Do you have any tips for bringing the essence of Shabbat into Saturday?
Continue to find ways to make Shabbat about spending time together. I do love it when we all go to synagogue together on Saturday mornings. Honestly, there are plenty of mornings we don’t go, but the mornings we do, it’s wonderful—it’s a very peaceful way to end the work week and begin the week end. I also try not to work on Saturday or turn on my computer—it’s time I just focus on my husband and children. I want to get better at doing something for havdallah. It doesn’t take long and is a beautiful ceremony. Plus, I just bought a gorgeous havdallah set that I’m dying to use!
Who is the most inspiring Modern Jewish Mom you’ve met since you published your book?
I hope this doesn’t sound trite, but I’ve met so many! I feel so lucky—because of the book and website, I’ve met women from around the world. I’ve learned so much from so many of them. They’ve shared ideas, recipes, friendship. I think what I’ve been most inspired by are the women who did not grow up Jewish—who did not grow up seeing their mother or grandmother making chicken soup or preparing for Passover, who are finding ways to build a Jewish home for their children. The effort and love and commitment that they are putting into raising their children Jewishly, humbles me. I feel so fortunate to have had the role models in my family who truly shaped the kind of mother I am now. I can’t imagine what it would be like to not have had that.
Check out Meredith’s blog Modern Jewish Mom here.