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Community BlogThere’s an App for That — Making Shabbat Work for Us

On a recent Friday night we lit Shabbat candles and my wife and I recited the Kiddush. We do it fairly quickly so our kids don’t get too antsy before they can drink their grape juice, but this time our four-year-old was singing along with us, having picked up the tune and the words from listening to us do it every Friday night. It was an amazing feeling to know that not only were our children listening to what we were singing (in a language they don’t know), but they want to participate and figured out how to do that on their own.

But it wasn’t always that way. I get home from work close to bedtime on Friday nights, and on Saturdays we’re usually out with friends or family all afternoon.  Since our older child started preschool at Temple Beth Avodah, we had tried to welcome Shabbat and bid it farewell during Havdalah. We weren’t consistent, often forgetting until the kids were already upstairs and in pajamas. If it wasn’t the perfect situation we would say “we’ll do it next week,” but when is there ever a perfect situation with two toddlers?

In the session about Shabbat during Parenting Through a Jewish Lens, our instructor challenged us to commit to doing something to make Shabbat special in our house. I love the idea of not using any technology on Friday nights, or always being at home with our family, but those just aren’t realistic for us. One quote from the texts we read struck me, Judith Shulevitz encouraging us to observe “some kind of Sabbath not because God said so, but because it’s socially useful and psychologically beneficial.” Removing the traditional religious restrictions for Shabbat and thinking more about our family spending time together felt like the right thing to do for us.

So I used the Reminders app on my phone to remind me to light candles and welcome Shabbat every Friday night at 5:45pm and to make Havdalah every Saturday night at 5:45pm. Unlike the traditional 25-hours of Shabbat that changes from week to week, I wanted to keep it consistent. The Reminders app is great because the reminder doesn’t go away until you react to it. If we’re not quite home yet at 5:45, or we are home but in the middle of eating dinner, the reminder will stay right on top of my screen until we light candles and sing prayers and songs… then I’ll turn it off.

And we haven’t missed one Friday or Saturday since! Sometimes it’s easy because we’re having a low-key night at home with just the four of us. But one Saturday we had friends over, four adults chasing four kids under 5 around the playground, around the house, and eating dinner as quickly as we could before the kids went back to doing what kids do. It was a scramble. When they were getting ready to go and we were getting ready to get the kids upstairs for bed, I got the reminder on my phone.  We stopped to do Havdalah for a quick 5 minutes and it was a meaningful way to wind down the visit and celebrate the start of a new week.

As Jennifer Bleyer wrote for Tablet in 2011, “Shabbat is like exercising… you think of a million other things you would rather do. Finally you drag yourself to do it and you feel amazing.”  I can’t even imagine how much more hectic and scattered our lives are going to get in the next few years as our kids start activities and sports, having homework, and initiating play dates on their own. I imagine for most people reading this, you’re already there. But it doesn’t take much time to stop and take a breath as a family to celebrate Shabbat.  I encourage you to find one small thing to do to make Shabbat special for your family.