Feb 05 2020 The Shabbos Room
Designating one space in our home that is 100% Shabbat observant elevates our celebration of Shabbat and deepens our family’s joy in being together.
Are you looking for ways to make Shabbat richer and more meaningful for yourselves and your family? Do you enjoy trying new things? Are you open to the idea that growing in mitzvot is a lifelong quest—and grandparents are uniquely poised to model this for their grandchildren?
Yes? Then let me tell you about the Shabbos Room, an idea for those who are not Shomer Shabbat (Sabbath Observant)/Orthodox but are seeking ways to deepen their Shabbat experience.
We learned about the Shabbos Room a couple of years ago through our study with a local Orthodox rabbi, a rabbi who devotes untold hours to teaching any Jew who wants to grow in their Judaism. His teaching is deep, personal, and full of doable ideas.
The rabbi proposed identifying one room in the house where Shabbat is observed 100%, a room where the lights are turned on before Shabbat begins and not turned off until afterwards. A room where people gather, eat, talk, read…but no TV, cellphones, or electronics.
We were intrigued, and chose to designate the sunroom, just off the kitchen, to be our Shabbos Room.
Our longstanding Shabbat ritual begins on Friday evening. Our kids, spouses, and grandkids (ages 2-6) come to our house for Shabbat dinner. We begin by lighting the candles, except in the darkest months of winter, when the candles are lit by 4 pm. We recite kiddush over the wine, often several times, as each grandchild wants a turn to do it! We say the hamotzi together, with lots of little hands holding the challah. A boisterous dinner follows.
It’s after dinner that the Shabbos Room comes into play. We talk, play with the kids, tell stories, reminisce. The conversation flows between what happened this week, what’s happening next week….and memories from years ago. Stories are told and retold. Research has indicated that kids absorb more information from family stories than most adults think. These stories convey values and anchor a child’s sense of belonging to the family.
Conversation and storytelling are enhanced because the Shabbos Room is free of distracting devices. If someone must use their phone, they step out to do so, and on some level, they know they are leaving the special Shabbos atmosphere that the room creates. If someone forgets and pulls out a phone in the room, another kid will laugh and say- Hey! Shabbos Room! And the person either puts the phone away or steps out for a moment. We’ve found that among our adult kids, stepping out to use the phone is rare. As for the grandkids, we are not yet dealing with preteens and teens and the struggle over devices. Everyone loves being part of the Shabbos Room.
On Saturday, my husband and I begin the day there, drinking coffee, reading…and often drift back there throughout the day. The lights burn all night and all day, until sundown.
Our grandchildren love the family atmosphere of the Shabbos Room without fully understanding the idea behind it. In a few years they will. They are not yet old enough to have their own electronic devices, but I’m thinking ahead for when they do. And then? My husband and I will continue to model how we bring holiness to our own observance of Shabbat, to our own home.
- A space that is, for 24 hours, elevated from the every day.
- A place where we communicate face-to-face, without electronic distractions.
- A place that is not punishing, only inviting.
Maybe our preteen/teen grandkids will join us for a few minutes, maybe not at all. But they will see the model before them. In Psalms we read the great wisdom- “Sow in tears, reap in joy”, and it is surely true of raising the next generation. Not every seed you plant takes root in the moment. Some take years.
The grandparent stage is the time when we may be best equipped to appreciate the gifts Shabbat offers. We feel the tug of time and the desire to embed something transcendent in our grandchildren. Children yearn for that too. How do I know? My communal relations work takes me into many schools, explaining Judaism to non-Jewish middle school and high school students. The students are, without fail, attracted to the pictures and explanation of how we celebrate Shabbat. Kids say, with astonishment, “You do that EVERY week? Wow.” And sometimes a student will even ask, “Can I come?”
There is one more thing to consider. Becoming a grandparent can be a catalyst for deepening our own Judaism and spiritual beliefs. Adding the Shabbos Room demonstrates that we can choose to grow in observance throughout life. That message will sail past a preschooler, but it will not be missed by older children…or their parents. It is a powerful response to the notion that Jewish learning and growth are complete at age 13. David Raphael, co-founder of the Jewish Grandparents Network, says, “If we want to support our grandchildren in their Jewish journeys we have to be on our own journey.” Indeed, grandparenting can be an impetus for spiritual development.
The rabbi who taught us the Shabbos Room concept believes in incremental change, that each step on the ladder of observance leads to other steps. ….and he was right. The Shabbos Room led to other changes in how I observe Shabbat. With the exception of the rare travel day, I shut off all my devices (phone, laptop, iPad) for the 24 hours of Shabbat. I no longer run errands on Saturday. One thing has definitely led to another.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the 20th century’s leading Jewish theologians and philosophers, described Shabbat as a sanctuary in time. “There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord”, he wrote.
The Shabbos Room enables our family to be, to give, to share, in a space where Shabbat is celebrated in its rich and beautiful totality.
I encourage you to explore new ways of sharing the joy and delight of Shabbat that are meaningful to you and your family.
Sally Abrams is a speaker and writer on Israel, Jewish life, and parenting. Her essays are widely read on Times of Israel, Kveller, TCJewfolk, and shared across social media. She is “Nanny” to nine grandchildren.