SHABBAT SHALOM. Just saying these words brings a sense of calm to me. Growing up, calm wasn’t always easy to come by. I lived in a noisy house with my parents, three sisters, and a big dog. We were all loud. We were always on the go, each of us overscheduled. I attended Sunday school and midweek Hebrew school, and I went to synagogue on major holidays. But only occasionally did “holiday” mean Shabbat. Although my parents did a good job of imparting Jewish values and challah was always in plentiful supply, I can’t remember ever lighting Shabbat candles and saying the blessings. Still, we did slow down a little bit on Saturdays. The day included lots of reading. Books were treasured in our family. (Two of us ended up as writers. All of us are still avid readers.) And there were long, what we called “father-daughter walks” in the park and around the neighborhood. My sisters and I took turns getting my dad’s undivided attention. Saturdays were eagerly anticipated.
Fast forward a decade or so. I’d just moved to New York City and was working as a children’s book editor, though not yet a children’s book writer. I knew almost no one. I joined my neighborhood synagogue. Mostly, I’m embarrassed to admit, because it had a large indoor pool that no one seemed to use, and I was a dedicated swimmer. After a few swims, I started to feel guilty about using the pool but not participating in the Jewish community in any other way. Before long, I was attending Saturday morning services. They were held in a small, beautiful chapel and felt very intimate; I remember a few mornings when it was a struggle just to get a minyan. The quiet services gave me the inner peace that can be difficult to find in a big city. Afterward, weather permitting, I’d walk to the park, sit on the grass, and read for an hour or two. I came to depend on my Saturday morning ritual to recharge me for the coming week. I never became an active member of the congregation, but felt welcomed nonetheless.
When my husband and I began our family, we joined a temple (no pool, alas; we were in a different neighborhood) and then sent our daughter to a YM/ YWHA for preschool. It’s hard to remember precisely, but I’m pretty sure it was from there that she came home one day happily singing the “Bim Bam, Shabbat Shalom” song. Inspired by her enthusiasm, as well as by some friends whose Shabbat table always had room at it for our family, we began lighting candles every Friday night. We would march around the table as we sang “her” song, holding the last note long enough for each of us to scramble back to our proper seats at the table, ready to begin the blessings. The parade eventually included two children, two adults, and one very enthusiastic dog that trotted after us, wagging her tail madly and barking along. After the candles were lit, we’d clink glasses and exchange hugs and kisses, dog included. It was a joyful commotion.
One of the good things about being a writer is being able to create your own reality. My children are grown now, and their childhood dog is no longer with us. In my book The Shabbat Puppy, I bring her exuberantly back to life. Why shouldn’t a puppy experience the magic of Shabbat? I also resurrect the father-daughter walks from my childhood, although in my story it’s a grandfather taking walks with his grandson. To me, Shabbat is inextricably linked with being outside and appreciating Earth’s gifts, so that’s central to the book as well.
Peace. Nature. Family. Shabbat.
Life can’t get much more awesome than that.