Eight Shabbat Candles: Finding New Traditions in Quarantine

As we enter the next week of “Shelter in Place” orders, new traditions are popping up all over the internet. People are hosting virtual dance parties and happy hours over FaceTime. Everyone, it seems, is making sourdough.

As for me: This Friday as the sun sets in my apartment in Saint Paul, my boyfriend and I will be celebrating Shabbat by lighting the candlesfour separate times. Let me explain. 

I work both in the service and retail industries, so my hours are inconsistent and spent entirely on my feet. Normally, the few days off that I have are spent trying to recover and prepare for the next shift. As a law student and firm associate, my boyfriend’s schedule is just as varied, and our “real weekends” don’t really exist anymore. Our days without work are scattered and often don’t even line up. 

We’ve always made an effort to spend our Friday nights at home, but usually, these evenings are spent completely exhausted. By the end of the week, our fuel tanks have just about run out –  these nights in our apartment felt necessary, not intentional.

Until March. 

Suddenly, our entire lives consist of existing in this space together. I’m unable to work, and Nick is now a student at “Zoom University”. Each day blurs easily into the next, with few traits to distinguish them other than which jigsaw puzzle we were working on, or how many days the leftovers have been in the fridge.

In this time, Shabbat has taken an entirely new meaning for us. When each day looks like the last, with no end to this strange existence in sight, how can we keep our sanity? We need Shabbat more than ever, not just to rest, but to intentionally separate one week from the next. 

Shabbat is no longer the collapse at the end of a busy week. Instead, it is the week’s highlight. I’ve started preparing challah on my own for the first time, texting my aunts and surrogate Jewish mothers all over the Twin Cities for advice. I talk to my grandma in detail about our menu, experimenting with the recipes she can recite from memory. I even make an effort to change out of my sweatpants, though I haven’t gone so far as to put on makeup or jeans.

There’s an excitement buzzing through our small apartment all Friday long – something I haven’t felt since I put on my whites at camp and prepared for the Shabbat caravan. We listen to Rabbi Weininger’s Friday night sermon, bless the wine and the challah, and then settle into our new routine, which consists of lighting the candles, via Facebook and FaceTime and Zoom, four times, each with different parts of our collective Jewish community. 

“Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam……”

We light the candles with Herzl Camp, thinking of how it felt to be surrounded by the ruach of hundreds of campers, dressed in white and covered in mosquito bites, singing in unison. 

“asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav…”

We light the candles with our friends in Uptown, thinking of long nights at their dining room table, playing board games and drinking wine until midnight.


We light the candles with Nick’s extended family in LA, lead proudly by sweet 3-year-old Lilah, thinking of the smiles of the babies being passed from one loving relative to another, the warmth of a loud Jewish family so similar to my own that it feels like a miracle to have found each other.

“l’hadlik ner shel Shabbat.”

We light the candles with my parents, just a few miles away, thinking of how it will feel when we can all be together once again, passing our dog gluten-free challah scraps under the table, not minding the fatigue from our busy lives, or the traffic on the way to the suburbs, happy to be in each other’s company without a screen between us. 

After the blessing, we get to catch up with our families, checking that everyone is safe and taking care of each other. It’s bittersweet, of course. Living this way is no substitute for smelling my Grandma’s perfume while she gives me a hug, or falling asleep in the passenger side of the car on the way home from dinner in Calabasas, Tupperware of leftovers balanced carefully on my lap. 

But to my surprise, spending Shabbat this way refreshes me far more quickly than eating takeout on the couch and going to bed early. Connecting with our communities, despite the occasional internet mishap or audio delay, is an easy reminder of how blessed we are in a million ways: for our people, the many cities we call home, and the roof above our heads. 

As Passover approaches, in this time of violent plagues and vicious Pharoahs, I have never been more grateful to be Jewish. When life gets so complicated and confusing, we are blessed to have rituals to guide us, especially those of Shabbat: commandments to slow down and rest, to look around and take stock of your life, and give thanks for each and every part, and to connect with your tribe. When next Shabbat comes, I’ll feel blessed to do just that – even if it means running out of matches.