The Modern Jewish Mom’s Guide to Shabbat (Win a Copy!)


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!

meredith1.jpgWin 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.

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23 Responses to “The Modern Jewish Mom’s Guide to Shabbat (Win a Copy!)”

  1. chyk Says:

    my favorite ritual is making shabbat “milk” for my son because he really looks forward to it. he runs around me in circles while i light candles, stays still long enough for me to bless him and if i do not go right to the fridge to make his shabbat milk (soymilk and maple syrup), he becomes very persistent. but once it is made, he sits quiwtly in a corner with it and lets me read until it is time to eat.

  2. Mel Says:

    We have a great one. We painted a jar together as a family at a paint-your-own pottery place. Everyone used a different colour. Before we light the candles, each person gets to place a wish in the wish jar. Sometimes a person uses their wish for themselves and sometimes we use our wish on another person. I once used it for a friend who had several IVF attempts and she was successful that cycle. We ended up sending her the slip of paper where we wrote her wish for the baby’s scrapbook. So it’s nice to see that wishes sometimes do come true. And it’s nice to see the kids sometimes give away their wish to another person who they think needs it more.

  3. phyllis Says:

    my favorite shabbat ritual is to dip our challah into honey (instead of salt). my kids love the unbridled amount of sugary honey i let them have and i love that shabbat is sweet!!!!

  4. Tricia Says:

    Shabbat truly is our sanctuary at the end of the week. Dinner is simple–quick to make and something everybody likes are the criteria. Homemade pizza is a favorite. We start the meal by singing the dinosaur on Shabbat song (my kids are young!). And when it’s over nothing feels more luxurious than to just sit. And chat. And not jump up to do the dishes.

    I know it will be a challenge to keep Shabbat once the kids are older, but it will be a challenge worth meeting.

  5. Katie Says:

    We’ve sort of let our Shabbat observance slip this spring as my son had soccer practice in the afternoons and things were hectic. I really want to restart our family Shabbat!

  6. another meshugganah mommy Says:

    We don’t have any unique rituals. I just like that its a nice pause in the week for our family. We light the candles, say kiddush and motzi, and sit for a nice meal. I love Shabbat dinner because we are uninterrupted by baseball, ballet or hockey practice. It’s just simple, sweet family time. My grandmother just passed away, and I love that I am following her traditions.

  7. Renee Says:

    We bless our daughter…she’s just a little more than 1 so she’s usually asleep for the blessing, but it is so meaningful to us to see her sleeping peacefully and to think about the hopes and prayers we have for her.

  8. T Says:

    Singing Shalom Aleichem while we stand around the Shabbos table is my favorite ritual. It wasn’t done in my house growing up, but now my partner and I sing it together (along with anyone we are having Shabbos with). We make eye contact when we sing, and smile a lot – Because we know we are ushering in the angels that will help us have 25 hours of rest and renewal and quality time as a couple. As someone who is hoping and working towards becoming a “modern Jewish mom” soon – When I stand around the Shabbos table singing I can picture bouncing a baby on my hip while I sing Shalom Aleichem at some future Shabbos dinner!

  9. Chaya Bluma Says:

    My favorite Shabbat ritual is also a favorite memory.

    Growing up, after my mother (Z”L) lit the Shabbos candles, she went around the table and gave each of us a kiss on the cheek. It was a simple gesture – I never gave it much thought until our son was born and I started doing it myself. I’ve always experienced the rituals of Shabbat as a link to past generations, but when I kiss my son on the cheek each Friday evening, I feel as if the grandmother he never met is there with us – if only for that one moment.

  10. Sarah Zeldman Says:

    Meredith — I’m so happy about your new book! It’s great that you have taken the time to write a book that makes shabbat seem more approachable to Modern Moms!

    I always say that I started keeping Shabbat, not because of G-d, but because I was selfish! I wrote an essay about it here:

    Also, I love eating healthy, especially on shabbat and I share my recpies here:

  11. Debra Says:

    The simple act of lighting the shabbat candles is such a strong divider between the weekday and shabbat. Before I say the bracha, I take a few deep breaths- trying to forget about all of the stress from the week. After I say the bracha and open my eyes, I feel as if I have been transported into a calmer home and I truly understand the meaning of “Shabbat Shalom” as I hug my family.

  12. Jo Says:

    So many little moments: it used to feel strange to bless our children when we first started blessing them as infants; now it feels odd not having any children to bless when they’re off at camp. Making the same, standard Shabbat meal just about every week because it’s what the kids love. Being on vacation and gathering wildflowers from outside the motel to decorate our Shabbat table.

    But our favorite ritual right now is feeding the dog after motzi. He has learned that first we’ll light candles (he crowds in when we bless the kids), then we’ll have kiddush, then wash…and that’s the point when he starts barking and whining and rushing about, because he KNOWS that we are about to say motzi, and he’s about to get a hunk of challah.

  13. Atarah Says:

    I love making challah with my 3 yr. old son. It’s messy, but such fun we have. :-)

  14. Meredith Jacobs Says:

    These ideas are all so lovely! I wish I could put out the “2nd edition” already! Tears welled when reading about feeling like your grandmother was at the table–I feel that too and make a point of using my grandmothers things to cook or display the food and even make the recipes that were special to the women in my family who have passed–it gives me an incredible connection to them and makes me feel like I’m doing something to continue not only our Jewish heritage, but preserving part of my family’s tradition.

    The post about the dog reminded me of something I was told on my book tour. A woman in San Diego shared that every Shabbat, after blessing the children, they bless the dog. The kids put their hands on the dog’s head and say “May you be like Benji, Lassie and RinTinTin!”

    Thank you all so much for sharing! I can’t wait to read more!!!

  15. Larry Lennhoff Says:

    Singing Eishet Chayil (A Woman of Valor) to my wife is my favorite Shabbat ritual, closely followed by zemirot (Shabbat songs) in general.

  16. shayna Says:

    I love Shabbat naps. I once heard a rabbi say that a Shabbat nap is the ultimate demonstration of your faith in G-d’s ability to run the world. It’s like saying hey it’s 2 pm–G-d, you take care of it. I’ll be sleeping. I don’t know how serious he was, but I take it whole heartedly.

  17. Lisa Sanetra Says:

    I am in the process of converting to Judaism and am fortunate to have a friend who has extended a standing invitation to spend Shabbat with her family. My favorite ritual is the blessing of the children which Judith and her husband perform a little differently. First they bless their children and then all the adults present.

    I find this to be a beautiful and touching tradition and if I ever marry and have a family of my own, I intend to continue it at my Shabbat dinners.

  18. Rivi Says:

    Sadly I have none. I grew up with parents who knew nothing of being jewish as their parents were all about assimilation. My parents felt they did their job by sending us to private Jewish school. I do not fault them for anything laking in me. It is just how it was.

    I have tried over and over again to bring Shabbat to our house and it has been a failure. I try and light the candles, but it means nothing to me inside. My kids don’t like to sit for a long shabbos meal. My husband blesses the sons and they look like “ok, when will you be done”? I am too pooped from work to make a big meal most of thetime anyway. My hubby is great and supports all my shabbos efforts.

    We have gone to shabbatons at Chabad and I have such an amazing time at them. But then next week we are back to our non Jewish neighborhood and no one to have shabbos with. It is just not fun without guests. At Chabad Shabbos is like a giant event, not just some hand motions. The feeling is contagious.

  19. Amy Buondonno Says:

    The best part of shabbat at our house is that there’s no yelling allowed while the candles are lit! Even my boys will get into the “shabbat shalom” spirit.

  20. Bonnie Gruszecki Says:

    I love it when we each have a turn giving each other appreciations on Shabbat. We go around in a cirle and each family member says something they appreciated about whoever’s turn it is. Each family member has a turn. It creates a loving, warm feeling and connection that is very special and truly captures the Shabbat spirit.

  21. Andrea Says:

    Just one? Here’s a few:

    My favourite Friday night memory: When we went for dinner at my grandparents’ house and my grandfather would come around and bless each of the grandchildren individually, lightly laying his hands on our heads and saying the blessing. It was beautiful and something that I appreciate more now.

    Havdalah and the shabbat nap are my two favourite rituals. I don’t do havdalah at home, and therefore rarely do it, because I live alone. I’m always happy for the opportunity to participate in havdalah. It’s a beautiful ceremony, and another one that makes me think of my grandfather.

    In my synagogue on Saturdays when we do the v’shamru (the name of the prayer escapes me) prior to kiddush everyone puts their arms around each other and sways while singing. Every time I feel the sense of community strengthen. It’s a reminder that we’re all family. The energy is amazing.

  22. Leah Koenig Says:

    Thanks everyone for sharing your amazing Shabbat traditions with us – they were very inspiring. And congratulations to lucky #17, Lisa Sanetra, for being randomly selected as the winner of The Modern Jewish Mom’s Guide to Shabbat!

    Keep your eyes peeled for more chances to win :)

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