Making or buying a meaningful food is a way to mark time and reconnect with yourself.
Posted in , Jan 26, 2021
When the pandemic began last March, I was a few months into mourning my father, who had died the previous fall. I had begun the practice of attending Friday night services each week at my synagogue to say a mourner’s prayer in his memory, and as my family began to experience Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) in this more regular way, I decided to learn how to bake challah.
Challah is a traditional Jewish bread that’s braided or otherwise interestingly-shaped and served on special occasions including Shabbat. The hint of scent from the rising dough, and the full-on aroma of the baking loaf is a hallmark of many Jewish homes.
For me, as I continued to mourn my father while transitioning to the “new normal” of the pandemic, the ritual of my weekly challah baking became that most precious of activities during these surreal months—a meaningful way to mark time.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, in his famous book The Sabbath, wrote of Shabbat as a kind of island in time, a moment each week to retreat from the bustle and ambition of a week filled with tasks and obligations.
“There is a realm of time,” he wrote, “where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord.”
During the pandemic, we have not had our normal ways of turning from one category of time to another. We have, by now, likely discovered ways of engaging with many of the meaningful activities of our lives, but that old distinction between “week” and “weekend,” between work and rest, has been blurred by the uncertainties of the past months.
This is exactly why a food routine like my challah baking is so helpful. Your version of this routine does not have to be homemade, complex, new-to-you or connected with a religious ritual. It can be Saturday morning scrambled eggs, Wednesday salad lunch, take-out, bakery-bought or from your own fridge and pantry.
However you choose to mark a weekly moment that you want to tease apart from all the others, what matters is that you do so mindfully, giving yourself a little space to intentionally feel yourself crossing from effort to relaxation, from scheduled to free or even from screen-bound to offline.
I love to see food traditions in this way. But of course you could also ritualize your time by lighting a candle, doing some gentle stretches, watering a plant or doing anything that takes you wherever you’re hoping to go.
Do you have any favorite foods to mark the end of a week?