On the Friday of Labor Day weekend around 4 p.m., my husband was running a 101°F fever. Since he was undergoing chemo, the doctor advised that we go to the emergency room, which resulted in an overnight stay for observation. By the time he was settled at the hospital and I returned home alone, it was after 10 p.m. Walking through the door of our retirement condo, I immediately faced our dining table-set with wine glasses and good dishes for Shabbat. Shabbat candles stood in brass candlesticks, still waiting to be lit. I generally set the table on Friday mornings, which builds my anticipation for Shabbat.
That evening, the festive dinner for two that my husband and I enjoyed on Friday nights with blessings, challah, and dessert, was derailed by a health issue. I poured myself a bowl of cereal and sat down on the couch, exhausted.
Since childhood, Friday night dinner has held a special place in my week. My mother lit candles and set the table with an embroidered cloth and pink china. My father recited blessings over a silver filled with wine and an ornate oval plate that held the . While I can't say I had the most idyllic of childhoods-my parents fought a little too often and my sister's health needs claimed most parental attention-Friday nights were a comfort to me. I recall them fondly as a shelter from the stress and angst of growing up and family squabbles. Disagreements were suspended on Friday nights. We sat down at the table ready to enjoy each other's company and a good meal. And when I began my own life as an adult, I made an effort to set Friday night apart from the rest of the week. I roasted baby potatoes, a dish my sons particularly liked. We ate in the dining room on a tablecloth with the good stoneware and always had dessert.
Now, as an empty nester, Friday nights are still reserved for a relaxing dinner at home which begins with the singing of Shalom Aleichem to welcome the Sabbath. I don't book theater tickets or go to restaurants on Friday nights. While I can't say travel or unforeseen circumstances (like a trip to the emergency room) have never interfered, the vast majority of my Friday night meals take place at home by the light of Shabbat candles.
My weekly observance influenced me when I wrote a pivotal scene in my verse novel, "My Name is Hamburger." The main character, 10-year-old Trudie, faces challenges as the only Jewish child in her elementary school in a small southern town during the 1960s. But Friday nights hold the same magic for Trudie that they did for me. She describes Shabbat dinner through a poem:
In the dining room,
candles glow on tall stands
like a scene from a fairy-tale castle.
Red roses bloom on Momma's china
and on her cheeks. Daddy smiles
as she sets the last dish on the table.
Noodle kugel with raisins and apples.
Even Sammy is quiet in his high chair,
watching Daddy lift a silver cup
to sing Kiddush.
He knows there's grape juice
when the song is over,
and he waits with big brown eyes,
looking sweet, like the baby brother
I wanted when Momma first
told me he was coming.
On Friday night, my family feels
braided like the challah bread
Momma baked in the morning.
We belong at this table, together,
eating a bread blessed by a Hebrew prayer
no one else at my school understands.
The walls flicker with candlelight.
We're in a castle protected by a moat
no enemies can cross.
Like Trudie, I feel braided to my faith and my family on Friday nights. One trip to the emergency room would not crumble the Shabbat castle I looked forward to every week. With my husband home the following Friday night, I lit the candles which had waited all week in their brass holders. After the traditional Shabbat blessing over the kindling of the lights, my husband and I sat down to sing Shalom Aleichem. We ate challah and roasted chicken.
The postponement of one Shabbat dinner only increased the joy of the next one.