“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The table was covered with a delicate white lace cloth, pastel colored flowers, soft green leaves, and an open weave with a cream colored cloth peeking through. The edges were scalloped, and each English bone china plate had a matching napkin resting on it with a glittery napkin ring. The silverware sparkled, so much so, that I could see my reflection in the back of the spoon. The crystal glasses stood tall with detailed cuts of so many shapes, and a stem so thin with lines etched from top to bottom. Once filled with water, we could hear the high pitched tone as we ran our fingers around the circular edge. Beside my father’s place setting stood a glistening silver goblet with smooth curves that rested on a circular tray. Engraved upon it were the letters of my grandfather’s name and a Star of David below it. The wooden bread board, gently covered in royal blue velvet and trimmed in gold fringes, waited patiently for its scrumptious braided bread and the blessings to begin. The gold metallic thread sewn into the cloth had three large letters that read Shin, Bet, Taf, Shabbat. Upon the ivory wooden carved tea wagon sat my mother’s sterling silver candelabra with five arms, one for each member of our family. The tall white candles waited for their wicks to be ignited and the blessings for peace and health to be whispered. The aroma of the floral bouquet in the clear shimmering vase engulfed the room, only competing with the scent of the delicious chicken soup.
How astonishing to me that these vivid memories, with such detail and clarity, feel like yesterday, and warmth washes over me as I recall them. How perplexing that at times I can’t remember the reason I walked into a room, or how I should know a name that escapes me, and yet the magic of these long-distant memories are still very much alive.
Upon reflection, I realized that what came next at our Shabbat dinner table impacted me so tremendously, allowing these particular memories to remain vibrant forever. No, it wasn’t the delicious food, although I did try to recreate many of my mother’s recipes. No, it wasn’t the elegant table setting, although I set mine every Thursday night, creating the feeling of anticipation. No, it was not that my parents and siblings were all together at the meal, although I look forward to spending time with my family on Shabbat all week. BUT, what I do believe gave those moments such beauty and created treasured memories, was our singing Shabbat songs, known as Z’mirot. We sang songs to welcome the Shabbat Queen, songs of hope for peace, songs praising the glorious King, and songs of Jerusalem and holy angles. The melodies were mellow and lively, serious, and playful. They were fast and slow, high and low; they had repetitive verses and echoing rhymes. We all knew that singing was just one more way to honor the Shabbat, and although as a young child I didn’t comprehend the meaning of all the lyrics, I felt the strength and power in the joyfulness of singing together.
When I married and started my own family, the value of family bonding and creating memories was embedded deep within me. I knew that taking a breath from my hectic week to inhale the beauty of Shabbat would be so impactful for my children.
Singing unites us weekly at the JCC Shabbat experiences. Our commitment to family and our Jewish values is evident as families join each class for Challah, grape juice, stories and song. As a community, we sing and dance together at our Shabbat sing alongs, which we know imprint meaningful memories in the hearts and minds of our children and families.
Written by Jill Rosalimsky, the Leonard and Syril Rubin Nursery School Program Supervisor of Half Day 2’s Program