Friday, October 10, 2014

A New Kind of Friday Night Lights

For the past eight-and-a-half years, Friday night lights meant one thing: Shabbat candles. Each week, before we lit them, we would dim the lights in our kitchen and family room so we could enjoy the glow of the flames. Even on the nights when Shabbat dinner was hastily thrown together, the candles’ radiance was calming, helping to put the work and school week behind us. But this fall, we’ve had to make room in our routine for a new kind of Friday night lights; the Friday night lights of high school football.

One of the traditions at our son Sammy’s new school, which includes first- through 12th-grade, is that students and their families from all grade levels attend varsity home games on Friday nights. On game days, the players wear their jerseys over dress shirts with ties and slacks, and stand at the entrance to the lower school during morning carpool. They greet each boy (it’s an all boy’s school) as they enter the building, encourage them to go to the game and give them a team ribbon to wear. 

With a sales pitch like that, you can imagine that all the boys, including Sammy, want to go to the game that evening. Cameron and I want to go also, not only to support the school, but also to get to know the parents of Sammy’s classmates and integrate into the school community. The problem is that the games begin at 7:00 p.m. about the same time we start Shabbat.

This wouldn’t be an issue if I were willing to trade our home ritual for football. Instead of reconnecting as a family over Shabbat dinner, we could reconnect at the game. The spotlights on the field could fill-in for the candles. We could pretend it was kind of like Shabbat.

But Sammy planned to meet his friends and play football in a grassy area next to the field, leaving Cameron and me in the stands with the other parents. While this was nice, it wasn’t time spent connecting as a family. It wasn’t Shabbat or even sort-of Shabbat-like.

Since I wasn’t willing to abandon Shabbat on game nights, I had two other choices: say no to football or find a compromise. Shabbat was an important ritual and one that had been key to building my interfaith family’s connection to Judaism. But I knew if I said, "no football," Sammy would resent the observance and me. I wanted him to look forward to Shabbat, not feel it was an obligation pushed on him by his mother.

I decided to work out a compromise solution, a way for us to have our football and challah too. A quick pre-game Shabbat dinner was considered but was nixed because leaving burning candles unattended while we cheered on the football team sounded like a recipe for disaster or at least fire.

A post-game celebration was suggested but voted down because Cameron and I didn’t want to start our observance at 10 p.m. At that hour, after a long week, we wanted to go to bed.

What we finally came up with was a two-part ritual–a pre-football dinner that included all the blessings minus the candles, followed by post-game candle lighting. This ritual wasn’t ideal, but it allowed us to have Shabbat and football, candles and spotlights.

This week we will again welcome Shabbat with our two kinds of Friday night lights. One ancient; one modern. One that bonds us to the Jewish people and one that makes us Yankee transplants a little Texan.