Since March 2020 when COVID-19 changed our lives, three couples changed how we celebrate Shabbat. Quarantine and isolation from family and friends emboldened us to do something different, to do something that would fill a void that COVID was creating.  Since that first Friday night when, we have not missed a Shabbat dinner together in almost a year. The feeling of anticipation is with us all week.

It starts with getting our Zoom invitation on Thursday. It is our notice, our call to action, Shabbat is coming. We sign onto Zoom and begin our Shabbat celebration together at 6:30 pm. Really, it starts earlier in the day with baking our own Challahs and showing off our creations. We take the opportunity to “dress” for Shabbat. Not having the opportunity to dress for Shul, we take this opportunity to dress for Shabbat dinner. Our tables are set with kiddush cups and tablecloths. Our candles are lit, we sing Shalom Aleichem, bless our children, recite kiddush and make the motzi over our challah creations. We sing, we eat, we schmooze, and we laugh until 9:00 pm when we wish each other a Shabbat Shalom until next week…but there is so much more.

Three couples from three different geographical areas – Great Barrington in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, in Eastham on Cape Cod on the tip of Massachusetts and the Green Mountains of Woodstock, Vermont. What are the commonalities, the threads that bind us one to another? We are all relatively the same age – in our 70s. We all are blessed as parents and grandparents. We are all professionals, a retired teacher, an account, two pharmacists a Rabbi and a psychologist. All three wives are Life Members of Hadassah. We all look forward to celebrating Shabbat.

Our Jewish backgrounds are also different and as was the way we each came to where we are today. My husband grew up in a classical Reform Jewish home. He remembers his mother turning on a special light on Shabbat evening and dinner was always eaten in the dining room. There was always a challah. I grew up in a Jewish home with a Nana and Zayde and a Bubbie that celebrated Shabbat with us. I still light my Bubbie’s candelabra. I love lighting her candelabra. It is a thread that binds me to her. One couple moved from Vermont to rural Montana where finding a kosher chicken or challah was impossible. In Vermont, all their friends were Jewish or part of a Jewish couple/family and community. What was missed most in Montana were those Jewish connections that meant so much in the Vermont family. Shabbat celebrations became the way connections were made and those connections became an extended Montana Jewish family. For one of us, Shabbat observance centered around a maternal grandmother who always welcomed Shabbat as a separation from the rest of the week-spending time in ritual lighting candles, eating challah, chicken soup and a special meal. This separation continued into adult life-first as a young wife, a young mother, Shabbat dinners at home and in my synagogue and now in the time of Covid being in at a created Zoom Shabbat table with these 4 friends-separated but together thanks to the technology of Zoom. This wonderful memory was shared – When I was young, we would welcome Shabbat by lighting the candles, making kiddush and motzi, and eating our dinner quickly.  After we cleared the dishes, we would go to our synagogue for the Shabbat evening service, which began at 8 PM.  The service, which included a sermon, would usually last an hour.  Following the service there was an Oneg Shabbat.  The tables were covered with white tablecloths and were set with china.  There were small pastries and nuts and tea and coffee.  We usually stayed for about an hour.  During that hour we talked to people, although there were also evenings during which there was a presentation and discussion about a previously announced topic of interest.

While there are fond memories of those Shabbatot, there is also had a feeling that there was a problem.  Rushing through our meal to run out to the synagogue for the service felt backwards and, ultimately, unsatisfying.  I longed for the opportunity to have an early service followed by a relaxing evening at home—enjoying an unrushed meal with family and friends.  During my years in Rabbinical School, I found that model of Shabbat extremely satisfying.  Ironically, during most of my four decades serving as the rabbi of a synagogue, I was unable to have that type of Friday evening observance.  In retirement, I was finally able to relax as we welcomed Shabbat.

Since, in this time of Covid-19, we have been avoiding having our Shabbat meals with our friends around one or another of our tables, we began to consider another way to welcome Shabbat with our friends.  We join with two other couples by Zoom for a relaxed entry into Shabbat.  Three couples, all friends, living hours away from each other, join around the same “table” to welcome Shabbat together and relax with each other, sharing news of our families and of our lives during the preceding week.  We feel that we are with each other and are there for each other.  It has been an unexpected blessing during this difficult time.

What do we talk about? We share menus and recipes. Not all of us are on the “chicken dinner on Friday night circuit”. Creativity abounds…including our Chinese Food (kosher of course) themed Shabbat dinner. Hadassah Magazine has provided inspiration for many of our creations. The cranberry sauce recipe in the November 2020 issue is great especially if you use a tablespoon of Cointreau in it. We talk about Kosher wine and when we hope to get the COVID vaccine. We talk about missing our grandchildren and how we see them on face time. We talk about our exercise routines and good TV shows we enjoy. We talk about our hope for the future and when we will meet again.

The camaraderie has brought us closer as individuals and couples than we were before COVID-19 closed doors for us. We acted and opened our hearts and home to Shabbat and friendship in a new way and it has given us something to look forward to each week. Shabbat is our connection our thread with each other. We raise our voices in song and prayer. It gives us hope for a better future. It gives us a feeling of wellbeing every week when we laugh and talk and pray and share time with each other. We share our lives with each other in the most spiritual of ways. The warmth and friendship are genuine. The glow from the Shabbat candles lights our faces and our homes and we are grateful for what we have and what we share. We are filled with hope and compassion. We have extended our family. We have connected to others. We are not alone.