8 Tips for Observing Shabbat an Entertaining Expert Swears By

published Jan 28, 2022
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Credit: Ariel Stein

A day of rest. That’s Shabbat in its simplest form. In the Jewish faith, Shabbat is welcomed at sundown on Friday evening with the lighting of the Shabbat candles and a blessing. It’s a meaningful celebration but one that can fall by the wayside when work responsibilities creep into the night, social plans beckon, and it just seems easier to collapse onto the couch and turn on Netflix. 

Ariel Stein is a Brooklyn-based lifestyle blogger raising two young daughters, so she knows what it’s like to be busy — yet each week she slows down, reflects, and intentionally chooses to spend her Friday night ushering in Shabbat. It’s a practice that’s evolved throughout her adulthood, from raucous evenings spent with close friends in her early 20s to quiet evenings with her family now that she’s in her 30s, but the core always remains the same — it’s an evening spent unplugged from the world, making time to mark the end of the week and be present with the ones she loves.

Whether you are someone returning to the observance of Shabbat in adulthood or looking to embrace the practice as a way to bring intention and connection into your life, Stein has eight tips to get started.

Start with just one thing.

Stein says, “You don’t have to go from zero to 100 and observe Shabbat for 25 hours from sundown to sundown. Instead, start by committing to doing one special thing on Friday night.”

Look at all the possibilities: cooking a new recipe, lighting the Shabbat candles, adding a challah to Friday evening dinner, having a glass of wine, saying the blessings, or adding fresh flowers to the table. Choose one and build up from there. This one action will add intention to your Friday evening and help you focus on the idea of slowing down, reflecting, and resting after a busy week.

Credit: Ariel Stein

Create a Shabbat playlist.

Stein has a Shabbat playlist she turns on every Friday morning. Those calming melodies instantly tell her brain it’s time to prepare to slow down. She says, “It becomes an association. You hear those songs and you know it’s time to start observing Shabbat.”

Not sure where to start? A quick search on Spotify turns up dozens of Shabbat playlists to get you inspired.

Put your phone down (at least for a bit).

Shabbat often brings to mind visions of totally logging off from the outside world, but these days, it’s not always possible to totally unplug.

Stein returns to the idea that you don’t have to approach Shabbat with an all-or-nothing mentality. She relates it back to the Torah and says, “You can still use technology! The idea of a day of rest originated with the creation story. God created the world in six days and, on the seventh day, he rested. We interpret that to mean we work throughout the week and, on Shabbat, we put our work down. But you can put your work down without unplugging totally.”

For her family, they’ve designated Friday night dinner as a special phone-free time. It’s a time to forget about the distractions of the outside world and slow down. Going phone-free for a few hours allows her to enjoy the wine, the meal, and the candles without the buzz of notifications.

Make your challah dough the night before.

First things first, there’s no shame in picking your challah up from a local bakery or grocery store. (Stein grabs hers from Trader Joe’s most weeks!) However, the past two years have done wonders for the bread-baking world, and perhaps you want to join in by baking your own challah. If you do, try making the dough the night before to eliminate the waiting game of “has it risen enough?!” Leave it covered overnight in the refrigerator and, come Friday, all you have to do is embrace the calming, meditative practice of braiding and baking — without worrying whether the yeast is cooperating. 

Credit: Ariel Stein

Start your collection of Judaica.

Stein recommends investing in a pair of candlesticks as a great starting point. You can choose a pair that reflects your style — perhaps a fabulous vintage set you found in a dusty antique store or something more sleek and modern — because they can double as home decor the rest of the week. A challah board and cover or a special wine glass are excellent items to pick up, but Stein says, “You don’t need those things. You could also use a cutting board and a pretty dish towel!”

Credit: Ariel Stein

If you do want to buy Shabbat items, however, Stein suggests supporting Jewish artists. A few of her personal favorites are Peace Love Light Shop and Modern Tribe.

Set a special table.

It doesn’t have to be fancy, but elevating your table setting sets the evening apart from a normal weekday dinner. Whether it’s just her immediate family or she has a larger group present, Stein has tablecloths that she only uses for Shabbat and holidays, and she breaks out her nice dinnerware. Of course, fresh flowers are always a welcome touch not only to create a special ambiance but to connect with nature and the larger world around you.

Credit: Ariel Stein

Serve a seasonal menu.

One way to slow down is to intentionally observe each moment, each day, and each season. That’s why Stein draws on the seasons for her Shabbat menus, serving soups and stews in the winter and fresh salads in the summer. Matzo ball soup with fresh herbs is another favorite since it’s often only eaten on Shabbat. A brisket is a labor-intensive meal that’s perfect for a Friday when you have the time to savor the process (and the flavors). Stein adds, “A roasted chicken is also a go-to because it was a favorite from my childhood.”

Remember, you don’t have to do it all.

Stein reflects on her younger days, before kids: “When I was in my 20s living on the Upper West Side, we’d host Shabbat as a potluck. Everybody would bring something and the wine was always flowing.” She would invite friends, Jewish and non-Jewish, and turn it into a dinner party. It was a low-pressure setting where everyone could pitch in.

And that’s the important lesson Stein wants to share: “You don’t have to do everything and you don’t have to do everything perfectly.” She continues, “If you’ve never done Shabbat before, just think of the one thing you can commit to and go from there. Whatever candles or wine glasses you have are fine. The most important thing is bringing people together or, even if you’re celebrating on your own, taking the time to reflect and slow down.”