Solo Shabbat in the Time of Covid-19

Mimi Rosenbush

The Friday nights of mid-March and early April, 2020 suggest the opening of the 1942 novel, L’Étranger, by Albert Camus:

“Today, Maman died. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure.”

The 2020 Jewish version: “It was a Friday night in late March or maybe early April; I can’t be sure.”

Early Covid-19 Shabbat resisted clarity.

Engines that had powered the Industrial Revolution shuttered.

A piece of 21st century modernity chipped off a skyscraper, tumbling to the silent street below.

The conventional peeled away, and uncertainty prevailed.

Each weekday turned into the next weekday, until Friday morning coasted into Erev Shabbat.

Shabbos was still going to be Shabbos, just without Shul and guests.

For a Shabbos observant person who lives alone, solo Shabbat veered from the occasional to a 2020 norm.

What I remember of that early spring is sketchy, but some parts were and continue to be consistent:

The table is set on Thursday afternoon.

Table for one, please.

Yes, I’ll be dining alone, thank you.

Just me and my NCSY benscher.

The colorful cloth napkin is still origami-d into its napkin ring.

The posh Costco plastic plates pair awkwardly with my grandmother’s holiday silver.

How does one do this kind of Shabbat, week after week?

Just one week at a time.

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If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it really fall? If I don’t do the Shabbos prayers, and no one is at my table, does anyone hear me fall?

In the beginning, I sang softly to myself.

Once in a while, I sang aloud, laughing to myself.

Correction: laughing out loud.

But early this summer, something changed:

I greeted the Sabbath Queen, no I welcomed the Sabbath Queen.

Come into my home, there’s plenty of room at my table.

It’s quiet here,

The candles are lit, and I am so grateful that it’s Shabbos,

And so grateful to welcome you.

After pouring from a small plastic bottle of Kedem grape juice into my kiddush cup,

I stood beside my husband, Stu’s (z”l) chair and sang sublimely, filling the empty dining room with the sanctity of kiddush.

I channeled kiddushes I had heard over the years:

from my kids and Jack, from Mike and Howie and Yra, and of course, from Stu.

The dining room was open.

The acoustics superb.

It may have looked sad, but it wasn’t.

It may have looked empty, but it wasn’t.

I know what you’re thinking – here it comes, the trite and the predictable:

She’s going to say that when you’re alone you feel the presence of G-d.

No person is in the forest, but G-d is.

But it’s true. It’s really true.

On the increasingly rare occasion that my table is filled with all my kids, my daughters-in-law, and my granddaughter, I have been known to be beside myself with gratitude.

In their absence, and in the absence of my larger family,

I embrace solo Shabbat in the time of Covid-19, with gratitude.

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Listen carefully at candle-lighting, and you can feel the gossamer divide softly tear, as you step from the mundane into the holy.

You can almost see the everyday extinguishing from the warmth of Shabbat.

You can almost hear the silent sunset, slipping beyond the horizon.

It’s most definitely Shabbos, Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath.

The month may be uncertain,

but the day most certainly is not.

About the Author
Mimi Rosenbush is a retired Senior Lecturer in English and Grammar from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Prior to the university, Mimi worked in Chicago as a film editor, documentary filmmaker, Co-founder of the Jewish Film Foundation, Assistant Midwest Coordinator for Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, and on Oprah’s Book Club team. Mimi is a photographer and freelance writer living in Lincolnwood, outside Chicago.
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