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It’s Friday evening, and Christmas is all over the table. Yes, as of the first week of February, Christmas has migrated into bins on the dining room table, slowly being sorted into ornaments (breakable and not), garlands and soft things, and breakable non-ornaments. Hanukkah is there too, in slightly larger proportion than when they came out of the boxes as we made a concerted effort to find more Hanukkah-related decorations this year. The jury is still out as to whether there will be interfaith storage, or if the blue bins will sit beside the red ones in the closet. All of this is progress from the last week of January, when it still looked approximately the same as the last week of December, only with slightly more wilted and brittle greenery.

With Christmas and Hanukkah holding court on our dinner table, there is no room to put out candles, wine, and bread. The smell of challah hangs in the air, filling the house with the essence I am coming to associate inextricably with Shabbat, but I fret over how this will work without a clear space to put our food or sit. How are we going to do this?

My iPhone plugs into the television, and soon Shalom Rav is quietly playing in the background. My husband and I stand in the middle of our kitchen and say prayers over the candles, wine, and bread which are waiting on the countertops. We have dinner on TV trays from the couch, listening to my very short Shabbat playlist and talking about inane secular topics like what the dog has found and whether he’s supposed to be chewing on it.

Even without the dinner table, without elevated discourse, without the good china or cloth napkins, standing in the middle of the kitchen with doughy dishes soaking in the sink, even with Christmas and Hanukkah haunting us and the stresses of school driving us both insane, even with all of that, we still eked out our little holy space tonight.

Blessed are you, oh God, who blesses Your people with Peace.

It is no secret that I love tradition and ritual.  They aren’t just about doing things the way they’ve always been done, though; to me, traditions and rituals create a safe space, a feeling of belonging.  Anything is fair game — if we’ve done it twice, it must be a tradition — but it is the traditions of my family and my faith which I hold closest to my heart.  As BWB and I build our life together as a married couple, we are establishing our own traditions, some of which are treasured childhood rituals and some of which are new to both of us.

One of the new to both of us traditions is Shabbat dinner.  While my family obviously never observed Shabbat, we did sit down to dinner together more nights than not.  Looking back, those nightly conversations were hugely important to my development as a person as well as my relationship with my family.  I am determined to give my someday-children the same thing.  Combining ritual, tradition, discussion, and food — it should really come as no surprise that I love the idea of celebrating Friday night Shabbat dinner in our home.

To that end, a few weeks ago I ordered The Modern Jewish Mom’s Guide to Shabbat. A couple of the reviewers on Amazon had said it was helpful for non-Jewish mothers, and I have to agree.  While it didn’t answer all of my questions, it did answer most of them, and offered information I didn’t even know to ask about.  I’ve read it a couple times through, and I’m sure I’ll go back a few more times before I’m done.  I would definitely recommend it for anyone, mom or not.

Friday afternoon I called BWB to ask if he wanted to go to temple or not.  He said no, he was just too busy, and I could tell from his voice that he was super stressed.  I was exhausted myself, so I said I’d pick up some food on the way home and we could just stay in.

When I got home, he was upstairs studying.  I got out the kiddush cup and two little candles from our wedding.  The only white tablecloth we have has embroidered menorah and dreidels on it, but I put it on the table anyway.  The food was nothing special (a rotisserie chicken, red pepper strips and frozen corn for him and peas for me), but I put it on the plates and made it look pretty anyway.  A few weeks ago I made four small loaves of challah and froze them, so when this week’s loaf came out of the oven, I called him down for dinner.

“Oh, you can start without me.”

“Um.  No, really can’t.”

“…fine.  It’ll be about ten minutes.”

About ten minutes later a stressed out and distracted BWB came down the stairs, but as soon as he saw the table, his tense expression eased and his face lit up.  “What do we do now?”  I pulled out the book, and opened to the part explaining the prayers.

I covered my head with the wedding shawl one of my bridesmaids made for me, and somewhat sheepishly lit the candles. After waving my hands over the flames the way I’ve seen my Orthodox friend do, I said the prayer (almost from memory, even!).  He said kiddush over the cup, and then we followed the steps through the rest of the book, giggling a little from time to time.  Dinner was not excessively long, our conversation wasn’t particularly enlightened, and the soundtrack was the TV coming in from the other room where our housemate was watching something.  Despite all of that, I could see BWB re-centering.  At some point, he thanked me for setting it up.

“You needed Shabbat.” I said.

“Yeah, I did.  Shabbat Shalom, honey.”

I love tradition and ritual because of the shared sacred space they have the ability to create, any time, anywhere.  Last night, our imperfect prayers created a holy place in our house.  Amazing.  A slightly belated Shabbat Shalom, yall, and God be with you tonight and every night.

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