The Promise of Shabbat



I was stunned the first time my then-8th grade daughter Rebecca called me on a Friday afternoon to inform me that she wouldn’t be home for dinner. Yes, she knew it was Friday night. And yes, she understood that it was Shabbat. As I hung up, I comforted myself by chalking it up to the beginning of adolescent rebellion.

I hadn’t witnessed much adolescent rebellion growing up with my six sisters. None of us would have dreamed of not being home on Friday nights, a time when no one took babysitting jobs or asked to eat at a friend’s. We gathered as a family every week to “make” Shabbat.

I grew up in the suburbs on Long Island, where my mom ran an organized household and had Shabbat dinner cooking early Friday morning. There’d be a chicken turning in the old-fashioned rotisserie or roasting in the oven above a tray of baked apples. She made baked potatoes or rice pilaf, sometimes chopped liver (heavier on the egg than the liver) and a big salad.

Deborah Rood Goldman and her three older sisters in dresses made by Aunt Frieda

My younger sisters and I waited impatiently for my father to get home from work on Friday evenings. The minute we heard the door opening, we’d race over, trying to be the first one to reach him. Before all nine of us sat down at our Formica-topped dining room table, there were last minute moments of chaos – putting out drinking glasses, folding paper napkins in a fancy style to hold the forks, finding wine, and making a pitcher of lemonade.

I relished my weekly job of going to the garage to fetch our homemade papier-mâché Shabbat candlesticks, spray-painted dark copper and slightly charred at the edges, and standing next to my dad at the head of the table. As I struck the match to light the Shabbat candles, the past week lifted and time shifted. Shabbat arrived in our home.

My father would lift the glass and lead us in singing kiddush, then pass the glass around for everyone to take a sip, even the youngest girls. He had a beautiful singing voice, and I privately admired how perfectly he sang the kiddush without having to open a siddur.

Just in time, the doorbell would ring, and our neighbor Charlie Wasserman would be standing under the porch lights, delivering a gorgeous, poppyseed challah sent from Uncle Hymie. Even with our hungry crowd, we could barely make a dent in that gigantic braided bread, and we’d feast on it all weekend.

Our family Shabbats set the rhythm of our lives. By the time I turned 15, my three older sisters were away at school, and only six of us gathered to make Shabbat. By then, my three younger sisters took turns standing beside our father on Friday nights to light the candles. I had turned my attention to baking challah and using the dough to try and duplicate Bubbe’s apple dumplings the way my mother described them.

I was in 10th grade, and that spring I practiced my Torah portion for my upcoming confirmation. I was secretly proud that my dad, our temple president, would be sitting up on the bimah for the occasion. Many nights, he came into my room to listen as I chanted the 10 Commandments, and by the time I finished, he was asleep in the chair! Shavuot was late May that year, and two weeks later, my dad had a massive heart attack. His death was sudden and unexpected. My mother was 48, my youngest sister 8. The funeral was standing room only, and both the rabbi and cantor’s voices cracked with emotion as they each recited my father’s Hebrew name.  The shivah seemed endless until finally the house was hushed, and you couldn’t escape the overwhelming grief.  My mom couldn’t bear to sleep in her room or sit at the head of the table in my father’s customary place. And she couldn’t stand being home without my dad on Friday nights.

So we’d pile into the car, me and my younger sisters, with my mother at the wheel, and head into Brooklyn to my Aunt Frieda and Uncle Hymie’s apartment. My mom wasn’t used to highway driving at night, and as she’d cautiously drive onto the entrance ramp of the Southern State Parkway, it was my job to look back and tell her when she could merge into traffic. I would exaggerate a full-body turn to look back, and when I saw a good-sized gap, I’d scream out an authoritative, “Go!” Our car would lurch out as shocked laughter momentarily filled the air.

Frieda and Hymie’s Brighton Beach apartment felt worlds away from suburban Long Island. The new weekly Shabbat ritual started with a press of the buzzer of their apartment complex gate, announcing our arrival into the intercom, and pulling into the designated parking spot. Shabbat meant going up the elevator, marching down the hallway, and wandering out onto the balcony to look at the ocean. Aunt Frieda lit the candles before we arrived; we sat quietly as Hymie recited the kiddush and motzi by rote in his Russian/Yiddish-accented Hebrew. The new Shabbat meant being the responsible older daughter who resolutely stood up after the blessings and went into the tiny kitchen to help serve the first course. I remember watching as sweet Aunt Frieda put a spoonful of thin egg noodles into each soup bowl and ladled the most delicious chicken soup on top.

Today, I wish I knew if Aunt Frieda and Uncle Hymie understood that those Friday nights were a lifeboat for my mother and for us girls. We couldn’t have kept Shabbat without them, though Shabbat kept us.

Deborah Rood Goldman and her late father, Murray Rood

Read the Shabbat Meditation that Deborah Rood Goldman wrote in memory of her father.

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Deborah Rood Goldman

About Deborah Rood Goldman

Deborah Rood Goldman is a member of the Garden City Jewish Center in Garden City, N.Y. She also is the URJ librarian and a member of the Marketing and Communications team.

35 Responses to “The Promise of Shabbat”

  1. avatar

    Your sweet story made me cry! Thank you so much for sharing it. I love the photos!!! What a wonderful tradition you all had. You are very fortunate!

  2. avatar

    This is excellent! Your detailed memories (I’d forgotten about those papier mâché candlestick holders!) powerfully evoke the weekly rituals of our household, before dad’s death and after. It’s very true–the celebratory routine of Shabbat was sweet and reassuring in our innocence when he was alive, and then equally crucial to our family stability when Frieda and Hymie stepped in after we lost him. Thank you for helping me see it with such clarity. Very touching–

    • Deborah Rood Goldman
      Deborah Rood Goldman Reply August 13, 2012 at 2:06 pm

      Thanks, Karen. I wonder whatever happened to those candlestick holders. (Which one of us made them?)

  3. avatar

    The beautiful descriptions of your childhood Shabbat memories bring back that warm, familiar Shabbat feeling from my own childhood. What an ideal example of using and transforming traditions to make a family close. Thank you for writing this! I want to hear more!

  4. avatar

    It’s a wonderful story Deborah! It reminds me of when my mother lit the candles every Friday night when my brother and I were little. Like your father, her father was also Temple President of their Congregation in Bayside. She grew up in a very large household as well with several relatives; but of course my Grandfather; who passed away in 1962, was the head of the table during the Shabbat dinners.

  5. Robb Kushner

    Thank you, Deborah. What a beautiful description of how Shabbat kept your family as you continued to keep Shabbat. Such a beautiful piece! Yasher koach!

  6. avatar

    Debbie
    Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful memories. It made me think about my own memories that I have never been able to put into words.
    You have such a wonderful family. We have always enjoyed spending time with you all.

  7. avatar

    Debby, your description brings me right back again, remembering Shabbat, remembering dad, and picturing our tiny kitchen filled with hungry smiles. I also see dad singing the kiddush, always with a child on his arm— at one point, you. These are precious memories.

  8. avatar

    What a beautiful tribute to your parents and family. It evokes the childhood memories we all would have liked to have had.

  9. avatar

    Debby,

    What a beautiful, loving remembrance of your family’s Shabbats. Thanks for sharing those memories. I love the photos; they take me back to those times.

    Jan

  10. avatar

    Oh, Deb! You did it again. You perfectly captured the Shabbats I remember. Thank you for bringing it all back so vividly and beautifully.

  11. avatar

    Debbie, this turned out to be just as,if not more, wonderful than I anticipated! Very good work, beautifully written.

  12. avatar

    Debbi
    You have taken a family Shabbat to a higher, beautiful meaningful level. I have seen you and your sisters during Passover and that was very spiritual and wondful. To have the same moving event every Friday night is almost beyond words. Your family did a beautiful job teaching you and your sisters. You have done the same with your children. They know who they are and the importance of Shabbat
    With love
    Stuart

  13. avatar

    Thank you for sharing this piece of your life and memories with all of us. You are blessed to have been a part of this loving Jewish family!
    Your writing is heartfelt and beautiful, Deborah. I hope you continue to use this gift to share more vignettes with us.

  14. avatar
    Barry and Carole Brenin Reply August 13, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    Debby – We enjoyed your touching, heartwarming article. You brought me back to the times when your father was such a mensch at the Garden City Jewish Center and your family was so involved with mine at GCJC and Happy Time Nursery school.

    Keep up the writing – librarians can create printed pages as well as manage them.

  15. avatar
    Rabbi Linda Henry Goodman Reply August 14, 2012 at 1:10 am

    I never had the pleasure of knowing your father, Debby, but I certainly knew and loved your wonderful mom Judy, and can see her in every one of your beautiful words and memories. You lost your father way too soon. But you are blessed in the memories you have of him, and now of your mom as well. The sky was not high enough to contain her pride in you and in all of your sisters and the families you have raised. I am certain your father would have been as well. And I know that the whole congregational family of the Garden City Jewish Center is enriched because you and your family have been a part of it.

  16. avatar

    I’m sharing this link with my own four sisters and friends. It’s an extraordinary story and I was transformed by reading it. I want our family to feel that remarkable closeness and warmth brought to life through your words and I will cherish our Shabbats and special moments more because of them.

  17. avatar

    Amazing! What a rich & poignant description of our life as children. Please make sure Harold reads this, too, as it was his home we went to after Dad passed away…I love reading all the outpouring of response people wrote after reading this beautiful piece. I look forward to reading many more stories to come! Your loving sister…

  18. avatar

    I was the only future son-in-law privileged to know your father, and privileged to attend a few Shabbat dinners before he passed. Your essay made me realize that maintaining the tradition was even more important after. Loved the photos!

  19. avatar

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. You really express how you felt held by your father. After he died, you and your family were held by your aunt and uncle. And all along each person was held by a faith and its rituals.

  20. avatar

    Very touching and emotional. I am proud to be a member of your family. Love

  21. avatar

    I loved reading the blog Debby. So many memories. And yes I think Aunt Frieda and Uncle Hymie did know they were stepping in for Dad.

  22. avatar

    Debbie “The Story Of Shabbat” , your own story, touches my heart each time I read it and it is not only because of the content: Family Shabbat Jewishness. It’s the way you write; it goes streight to one’s feelings, emotions. You are gifted! please continue to write and tell your stories.
    Shabbat Shalom and love to you.
    Lea.

  23. JanetheWriter

    What a touching piece. Shabbat shalom to you, your sisters and the rest of your family.

  24. avatar

    Debbie, you are fantastic! These memories you share with us are much appreciated. I believe you and your sisters were closer to my parents during these years than were my brothers and I who were busy with our own families in distant cities. My folks always had a special place in their hearts for your mother and father and all of you girls. You all filled an important part in their lives as me and my brothers pursued careers elsewhere. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

  25. avatar

    This is beautiful! My dad, Rick Feinleib, sent this to me in an e-mail. It i amazing to read about the Shabbat traditions of our family in the past. It is also a tad bit nostalgic, hearing my great-grandmother (I called her “GG”) described as “Aunt Freida,” especially since I remember so little of her. Shabbat for me is entirely different. In fact, we don’t even observe it at all. But reading about my own family’s Shabbat history is so very interesting, and also inspires me to learn more about it, and maybe encourage my family to start celebrating it!

  26. avatar
    Sid and Hisako Azumi Feinleib Reply August 19, 2012 at 11:35 pm

    Debbie:

    Marcia sent me the story. Thank you for writing it.
    It was all only yesterday, or maybe last year, at most
    that all of this happened.

    I remember your dad dressed in his military uniform,
    his broad smile, his fine skin after a shave (wish mine
    were like that). I stayed at your house most of a summer, but the memory is vague. Talks of starting a
    hydroponic farm. Lots of wonderful memories.

    We live mostly in Tokyo, but have a place in the
    mountains to escape the heat and humidity in the
    summer. A troop of 20 monkeys pass by most weeks.
    It is odd to see them climb on the fiber optic lines. A fox
    and rabbit visited a week ago, along with several
    rhinoceros beetles, 6-inch long stick insects, etc.

    Background radiation is less than in New York, but
    the 3-11 earthquake knocked all bookcases down,
    and smashed many dishes. We were not there and
    could not get there for several weeks. But noone
    was hurt in our area, but most lost their tv’s.

    So life goes on.

    Wishing all health and happiness.

    With love,
    Sid and HIsako

  27. avatar

    Debby, your blog says so much about who you are and where you come from. Thank you for sharing this with all of us; it is both moving and inspiring.

  28. avatar

    Debby;
    Beautifully said. I remember your dad affectionately. My first WH family.

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