Attention, moms: Heres your guide to Shabbat

Hallelujah! Meredith L. Jacobs has come up with a winner in “The Modern Jewish Mom’s Guide to Shabbat.”

At long last, here’s a book that realistically addresses how to incorporate Shabbat into contemporary family life. Jacobs, founder and editor of the Web site ModernJewish, delivers loads of information, lengthy explanations and lots of practical guidance on how families can observe Shabbat regularly. And — perhaps as a carrot to those sitting on the fence — she lays out the tangible rewards of setting aside Friday evenings for family, tradition and shalom bayit, peace in the home.

What distinguishes Jacob’s book from so many others is that she doesn’t preach, judge or push. Rather, Jacobs acknowledges and emphasizes that sometimes simply taking baby steps can get us where we want to go. At the same time, she also offers tools that can take families to higher levels of Shabbat observance. Flexibility is key, she stresses.

The author’s experience as a family and parenting columnist for Jewish newspapers from coast (Baltimore Jewish Times) to coast (L.A. Jewish Journal) have built a solid foundation for her advice. She began giving workshops on Shabbat in 2004, which inspired her to write this book.

She also writes as only a “modern Jewish mom” could. She shares that her husband typically works long hours, but still upholds his commitment to come home early for Shabbat. Her two young children are wonderful, she kvells, but they bicker, play video games and enjoy a healthy social life (in other words, they’re normal). And, like so many other multitasking parents, Jacobs grapples with squeezing work, volunteering at school and synagogue, housekeeping chores, chauffeuring, walking the dog, and so on into her normal routine.

What’s more, Jacobs exposes her personal metamorphosis from a not-so-observant Jew to one who made a conscious choice to incorporate more religious customs into the home, no matter how inconvenient. “I became my mother,” she writes, a role model to family and friends for “all things Jewish.”

Shabbat frees us from external pressures, she maintains, providing precious time for family and friends to focus on each other and develop customs that can last a lifetime. It also brings the spiritual grounding we all need to navigate today’s stressful world, Jacobs suggests.

The book begins with the spiritual and mystical meaning of Shabbat then moves to “It’s the Mood, Not the Meal: Your Shabbat Table,” which reiterates there is no one-size-fits-all formula. While home-baked challah, roasted chicken and fresh flowers are wonderful, there’s nothing wrong with hamburgers and hot dogs, either, Jacobs notes.

She presents a step-by-step guide to preparing for Shabbat, as well as after-dinner activities and an entire chapter on challah. Jacobs also takes a stab at that sticky topic of how to engage teens in family Shabbat, even when they’d rather be out with their friends.

The lengthy section summarizing weekly Torah portions, with specific questions that can launch family discussions, is valuable. What’s more, she presents different levels of questions — some obviously for younger kids and others for older ones.

If there is a weakness — and this is nitpicky — it can be found in the recipes. Do we really want to eat Grandma Hilda’s Carrot Ring, with its half cup of Crisco? Talk about trans fats! And how appetizing is Aunt Bev’s Brisket, which has just three ingredients: a slab of beef, a bottle of ketchup and a half-cup of brown sugar?

Also, a few of the crafts projects seem questionable. For example, do candles really fit into a decorated Altoids box? Are wooden candlesticks the safest way to go? But again, these are minor complaints.

Jacob’s glossary of Yiddish and Hebrew terms and listing of resources are helpful, especially the annotated list of Web sites, with brief description of each plus Jacobs’ comments.

All in all, this is a solid reference book that’s bound to become dog-eared with use.

“The Modern Jewish Mom’s Guide to Shabbat” by Meredith L. Jacobs (256 pages, Harper Paperbacks, $16.95).

Liz Harris

Liz Harris is a J. contributor. She was J.'s culture editor from 2012-2018.