The Ritual of Rituals

Even small habits can have big meaning

Several weeks ago, at the beginning of our weekly staff meeting, ISJL Education & Program Specialist Rena Lubin led our team in a meditative exercise in which we described what Shabbat looks like for us. What are the things we do between Friday evening and Saturday evening that set that time apart? 

Shabbat is an essential part of Jewish life, no matter how we mark it, and Rena’s prompt got me thinking about the rituals and habits that define my days. Jewish ritual looks different for each of us, as do the routines of daily life, but there is something sacred about the ways in which we mark time for ourselves, our families, and our communities.

I don’t light candles on Friday nights. I don’t spend Saturday mornings deep in Torah study. But the more I look around at my life, the more I recognize the sacred rituals and traditions that give me hope and peace and help me move through the world.

You may know that I also don’t make New Year’s resolutions, and that by extension I am inherently distrustful of anything labeled as a “life hack.” I don’t have any wisdom to share about making big sweeping changes in your life, because I don’t think that’s sustainable or particularly productive. But if thinking about something as a ritual helps you make it a constant, and that process brings you joy, then I think this might be worthwhile.

I want to share some of my small and not-so-small rituals with you, to encourage you to see what’s sacred in your own daily routines:

The ritual of Tuesday nights playing tabletop role-playing games with my friends, checking in with each other, telling stories, and having deep (and sometimes not-so-deep) conversations.

The ritual of rummaging through my fabric stash to lay out the design for my next quilt. The ritual of running to Joann Fabrics in a panic minutes before they close because I broke my last needle.

The ritual of texting my friends stupid memes that remind me of them.

The ritual of flossing my teeth.

The ritual of sending letters.

The ritual of waking up early to spend the morning volunteering for a cause I care about.

The ritual of monthly donations to organizations and mutual aid funds whose work makes a difference in my life and the lives of others (P. S. Have you heard about the ISJL’s Chai Club?).

The ritual of adding a song to one of my myriad, meticulously well-organized playlists, a ritual that means I’ve heard something of myself in a piece of music and I want to come back to it later.

The ritual of laying in bed every night doing the next day’s New York Times crossword puzzle while listening to one of those playlists.

The ritual of waking up and reading for a while before I start the day, of forcing myself to do something intellectually stimulating before I spend 45 minutes reading the news.

The ritual of sleeping in on Sunday, taking a leisurely run through my neighborhood, and then making breakfast tacos out of the random odds and ends left in the refrigerator.

The ritual of Wednesday night strength training class.

The ritual of sitting down with my housemates to make the next week’s grocery list.

The ritual of keeping track of all the best azaleas in the neighborhood.

The ritual of tending to my sourdough starter.

The ritual of calling my grandmother to talk politics.

The ritual of sitting down at my desk every morning to keep telling southern Jewish stories.

It’s a simple life, but, I think, a rich one. May the sacred rituals we all practice continue to bring us joy and hope even in the darkest of times.

Discover More

Jewish Ritual and “The Checklist Manifesto”

Jewish ritual is complicated. Take the most recent ritual we just celebrated, the seder. It has 14 steps, each of which is to ...

Judaism for Singles or for Families?

I’m getting married next week. Most of the wedding planning is done (but, oy, the table assignments, they continue to ...

Honor Non-Jewish Parents of Jewish Kids

Once the interfaith family exists, alienating families that are interfaith but committed to raising Jewish children is not good for Judaism.