We’re three months in and quarantine still feels, well, quarantine-y. And by that, I mean there are times when it still feels hard. Although the city is slowly on its way to reopening and the normal routines of life—working, eating, exercising, virtually spending time with friends—seem to have gathered their momentum, giving me joy, I still have moments when the gravity of this time catches up to me and leaves me a bit breathless.
I think, “Oh, it’s been that many months since I last hugged my nephew? It’s been that long since I ate a meal at a shared table with my friends?” Even as the warm weather and resumed business bodes for some normalcy, this season of COVID-19 has felt long and challenging at times.
In this time of quarantine fatigue, celebrating Shabbat has, well, unsurprisingly, provided a welcome respite. It started out at the beginning of the pandemic, when I relocated to my parents’ house in Connecticut to wait out the intensity of the surge. One Friday, out of a craving and an excess of sourdough starter (I’ve been an avid sourdough baker since 2018), I made focaccia on a whim.
The crispy, craggy pieces topped with an Impressionistic smattering of black oil-cured olives, bright cherry tomatoes and thin half-moons of onion offered the immediate comfort and delight my family needed. From there, the end of the week transformed into Focaccia Friday, a new, nourishing tradition that provided a glutenous light to look forward to at the end of every week. Considering that before this, I had baked sourdough more regularly than I celebrated Shabbat, the speed with which this became a weekly affair was impressive.
Of course, this ritual was, and continues to be, much more than just an excuse to eat focaccia. In the time when we didn’t know whether social distancing would be a two-week or two-month condition, and even now, when arguably there is a much clearer sense of the way forward, the rhythmic routine of prepping focaccia dough every Thursday night to bake on Friday in time for dinner has offered a ballast of certainty, of normalcy, to my week. Instead of challah, I bake focaccia.
Back in my Somerville apartment for the past month, I’ve continued to keep up this weekly meditation of flour, salt and olive oil. And as time has passed I’ve added other flourishes to my Friday to make it feel even more special, whether that’s FaceTiming my parents to join them for virtual services at my home synagogue or lighting candles cradled in a candleholder my mom brought back from a trip to London.
Sometimes these flourishes have been unexpected gifts from unexpected places, like with The Shabbos Queen experience JArts co-hosted with Vilna Shul, OneTable, The Riverway Project, Keshet and CJP at the beginning of June. Originally planned as an interactive ritual and dinner offering a new, queer take on Shabbat, The Shabbos Queen turned into a virtual meditation topped off with a dance party, thanks to the engineering team of event partners and Stuart B. Meyers, the mastermind and star behind the performance. Inspired by the warmth and openness of the space, I shared with the group the ways baking focaccia keeps me grounded, even though I couldn’t share my focaccia with them.
Over the course of quarantine, my weekly celebration of Shabbat has transformed into a practice; not just because of the addition of a weekly focaccia but also as a result of the growing intention with which I honor that time on Friday night. Even as this socially distant time continues to have its uncomfortable moments, taking just the smallest bit of time at the end of each week to breathe and bake offers a soothing reminder that life’s rhythms are still humming along.
So, now, three months in, I dare you: make focaccia (I use this King Arthur Flour recipe). Or, if you’re not a focaccia fan, find your weekly ritual.
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