Shabbat has always been a special time for me and my family. As early as I can remember, my parents made Shabbat holy. We lit Shabbat candles together. We had dinner in the dining room with a tablecloth. We sang the prayers and the blessings together. We gathered and talked and laughed and had moments we will always remember. 

As a parent, I wanted to provide the same experience for my children. With the blessing of my husband, Alan, we light candles as a family every Friday night. We light 6 candles, two for each girl in the family. We bless our daughters and the sons of any family or friends who may join us, and we welcome Shabbat together. We don’t go out on Fridays unless it is to spend Shabbat with another family. Shabbat brings us together after a hectic week, and we miss Shabbat if we have to be anywhere else and cannot follow our weekly spiritual routine. 

Although this may seem traditional and typical for some, for many, this Friday night ritual is something unusual. Numerous friends of ours throughout the years never experienced Shabbat in their lives and so we regularly invite others to share in our Shabbat experience whenever we can. With each new Shabbat, something unique takes place. Whether it is my friend telling me our table makes her remember the customs she had when she lived in Europe, or when my nephew returns from yeshiva in Israel and starts smiling as we sing “Shalom Aleichem” together, or back in the day, when my high school friend who had never been at a Shabbat table joined us, and felt the warmth and love in the glow of our Shabbat candles. These moments, these sparks, bring light into my life and my family’s life.

As we get closer to the High Holidays, we have even more opportunities for irreplaceable family gatherings. When I was a child, the holidays were either at my house or my grandparents house. We invited as many relatives as we could. It didn’t matter how well we fit into the dining room, the family made all the difference. It was loud, it was filled with laughter and it smothered us with love.

Back home, preparing for the high holidays, it was a family experience to make “kreplach” for the soup with my mother on Rosh Hashanah. It was fun, messy, and memorable. In the soup, of course, it was delicious. My dad took the lead on making the gefilte fish! All I remember was the apron he wore and the smell. We didn’t have a carp in the bathtub, but we had plenty of ground fish in the kitchen! Getting our first food processor made a huge impact on the fish preparation!

Now I’m building my own customs and my husband calls me a “balabusta”. Every week, I have been trying to bake challah for my family. I started because I saw some videos on social media and it didn’t seem so hard. Once I began, my family craved the home-made challah I baked and I kept trying different versions. I have a cinnamon roll challah that is to die for, and a stuffed apple challah that is exceptionally delicious for Rosh Hashanah. I’ve tried a cranberry challah for Thanksgiving, and I’ve considered trying a chocolate chip version as well. Making the dough is therapy for me. The baking, the tradition, the history that I’m a part of has made a huge difference in my life. I think about what my grandmothers must have done when they were young and what my great grandmothers must have done to make Shabbat in their homes. Today, my daughters watch and sometimes even help bake the challah. It has become a new bonding for our family. This year, I’m excited to try to bake a new round challah for Rosh Hashanah. It will add to my repertoire and keep my family excited and looking forward to a new holiday treat.

Customs are what Shabbat and the holidays are all about. I try to bring in my husband’s family customs as well. My mother-in-law loved baking apple cake. Whenever I visited the house, there was always a fresh apple cake to nosh on. Since she has passed away, I try to bake her apple cake every Rosh Hashanah to bring her to our table. I feel like she is watching over us, as we share the holiday as a family and enjoy her recipe.

This year, our Rosh Hashanah table will be smaller. My parents are in Florida and my sisters have to split their time with their families. My husband’s brothers will be with us, but their children are spread far and wide and will not all be able to join us. One of my daughters is living in Israel, and the other is away in college and may not make it home, but I still want to make a beautiful holiday for the family who can be together. We’ll just have to create new customs and make the holiday special in its own way, even if it is bittersweet. Shana tovah u’metukah!


  • Stephanie Z. Bonder

    Israel/Jewish Educator

    Hadassah The Women's Zionist Organization of America

    Stephanie Z. Bonder has been involved with Hadassah her whole life. She is the fourth generation of a five-generation Life Member family. Currently, Stephanie is the chair of Building Hadassah Community, an educational engagement program training future Hadassah leaders. She is the immediate past chair of EVOLVE Hadassah, the Young Women's Network. Previously, Stephanie was team leader of advocacy communications in the PRAZE Department of Hadassah. In addition, Stephanie was the president of Hadassah Northern NJ. Professionally, Stephanie taught at Golda Och Academy, a Solomon Schechter Day School in West Orange, NJ for 17 years. Personally, she has been happily married to her husband, Alan Bonder since 1992 and is the proud mother of two beautiful, brilliant and independent young women, Rebecca and Rachel!