Events and Life Mindsets Spirituality

Joy and Shabbos candles

I love candles in various contexts but, above all, I love Shabbos candles the most (Chanukah candles are a close second). I can only guess it all began as a child, growing up in a not-so-religious Jewish home. We almost always celebrated our Sabbath with a family meal, prayers over the wine and bread. All of this was illuminated by at least two candles that seemed to burn for most of the night.

The joy of Shabbos Candles

Shabbos candles have lit up my home for decades and their light literally lifts my spirits. Even when times are darkest for me, the light from those candles, along with the other rituals we perform on Friday nights, banish that darkness. When those candles are lit, everything feels like it will be ok.

Some nights, while my family is sleeping, I sneak back to our dining room just to experience that light one more time before bed.

Chanukah candles are a close second

Chanukah is, by far, my favourite Jewish festival and it is primarily because of the candles.

Chanukah candles towards the end of the eight days
Our tradition is to light Chanukah candles and place them on window ledges so their light can be seen from the street. That was, unfortunately, a little symbolic when we lived in Johannesburg behind two meter high walls and you really couldn’t see much from the street.

Here, in Israel, Chanukah candles are lit in shop windows and placed on balconies for everyone to see. To me, it feels as if joy is passed from shop window to office window and from home to home.

Even though Chanukah candles tend to burn out in about half an hour (if you’re lucky), those 30 minutes are slices of joy spread across the eight days of Chanukah. It’s even better with a Shabbos somewhere in between because, for a brief time, our home is filled with this heart warming brilliance.

It isn’t really a religious thing

We’re not particularly religious. We try to run a Kosher home because it is the way we choose to live. We are pretty infrequent visitors at our local shuls (mostly my fault, I start the week with the intention to go and when the time arrives, I procrastinate long enough to make the walk pointless).

At the same time, a Shabbos meal with my family is not negotiable. I am also pretty particular about our routine.

My weekly happy space in our old home
The starting point is Gina and Faith lighting the candles. I try to be there with them when they do because it feels as if we are welcoming Shabbos together then. Before we eat I say the blessing for our kids (I do the blessing for our kids separately – they argue over who goes first). I then do a version of the Shabbos blessings and blessings over the wine and challah (the Kiddush) and we eat.

Lately I’ve wanted to add something for Gina too and I keep promising myself I’ll learn Ayshet Chayil well enough not to take half an hour to recite it. If you’re not familiar with this one, it is basically a tribute to the wife for all that she does for her family. Just doing the blessings for the kids feels like I am ignoring all that my wife does for us. I’ll get there eventually.

We don’t really keep most of the laws but keeping our few traditions distinguishes this day for every other for me.

The light. Oh, the light.

The Kiddush, the wine, the challah and the meal with my family are highlights of my week. Above all, the candles we light make Friday night the best night of the week. After we’ve eaten, the kids are in bed and we finally turn off the lights and crawl into bed, the remaining light from those candles reaches our bedroom.

Shabbos candles in our previous home
That light dispels the darkness and grants a respite from it all for at least 25 hours. Even on the nights when I don’t sneak out of bed to watch those candles flicker one last time, a glimpse of their light before I fall into a food coma leaves me a little happier, more content.

Events and Life Travel and places

3 reasons why our new Israeli weekend beats our old one

I am beginning to love our new Israeli weekends. The current convention is to treat Thursday as the last day of the working week so Friday becomes a lot like Saturday in most countries and Sunday becomes the first day of our work week.

Almost everything closes on Friday evening and Saturday which, of course, is שבת, the Jewish Sabbath. שבת becomes a forced break in many respects. Most shops are closed and it is very easy to take a complete break from everything.

I initially felt like a week with only one official rest day (שבת) would be a bit heavy going but the Israeli weekend has turned out to be even better than the regular Saturday + Sunday combo we were accustomed to.

Reason 1: kids are still in school

One of the unexpected bonuses is that kids are still in school on Friday mornings. They finish a little earlier but a Friday morning is a terrific opportunity to get shopping and other errands done without impatient and grumpy kids in tow.

Reason 2: grown-up time

Another benefit (mostly of kids being in school) is an opportunity for Gina and me to spend some time together after a pretty long week and very little quality time as a couple.

When you take into account our commutes to and from work (including taking kids to school on the way), our work days are easily 11 to 12 hours. A Friday morning is a perfect time to take things a little slower.

Reason 3: easing into the weekend

Friday’s feel like Saturday’s to me. Stores start to close in the early to mid afternoon and that’s about the time the kids start to relax after their long school week and lunch.

A perfect way to ease into the weekend is a walk to a nearby park (Modi’in has parks on virtually every corner) with some fruit, the kids, water and maybe even a book. With so many kids doing the same, our kids pretty much have a guaranteed play date whenever the weather is decent.

At the moment the sun starts to set around 16:30/17:00 so we head home to wind down a bit more before bath time and light candles before sitting down for our Shabbos meal. It nicely sets the tone for a very laid back Saturday before returning to work early on Sunday morning.

Our move to Israel has certainly involved more than a few changes. Our new Israeli weekends are one of the better changes, by far.