The weekly ritual of Shabbat is an opportunity to slow down for a self-care moment. Chava Mirel, a local Jewish vocalist and prayer leader, calls it “a perfect nexus between joy and peace.”
Chava sees that peace and joy play out every week when she leads the J’s Tot Shabbat. Every Friday, families and their young children gather together to sing, dance, light candles, eat challah, and share the joy of Shabbat with one another.
“It’s the highlight of my week,” Chava says. “We leave behind the formalities of Shabbat and embrace the pure celebration aspect.” Parents bounce newborns in their arms, grandparents laugh as toddlers dance and play the drums—the room radiates joy.
“It doesn’t matter where I’m at emotionally, when I walk into that room, I feel loved,” Chava says. “I hope everyone feels that way too.”
Fan Yuan and Brian Sloan felt that warm connection when they moved to Mercer Island this past summer with their 7-month-old daughter, Kara. The J was one of their first stops, and Fan and Kara quickly became regulars at Tot Shabbat. Kara took to it right away, laughing and flapping her arms with the music. “It was the first time I saw her so excited like that,” Fan says.
Singing together is a part of Jewish tradition, and Tot Shabbat builds that foundation. It also encourages adults to reconnect to something they did as children but may not always make time for now, Chava says. Brian experienced how powerful that sense memory could be the first time he joined Fan and Kara at Tot Shabbat, and he found himself tearing up. “It reminded me of growing up,” he says. “All my Hebrew School memories came flooding back with the songs.”
That deep tradition of Shabbat—whether you celebrate every week or haven’t celebrated in years—is part of what Brian and Fan love about it. “It’s comfortable and a good way to ease into traditions,” he says. As they create their own family traditions, they see Tot Shabbat as a jumping off point to incorporate aspects of both of their heritages, from Shabbat dinners to Chinese New Year celebrations.
“I feel so strongly about Chinese traditions, just as much as I feel strongly about Jewish traditions, and I think it’s very important to keep them both in the family,” Fan says. “Brian grew up with these traditions and they made him who he is, and I want Kara to understand that.”
Fan and Brian are glad the J has quickly become part of their new tradition. “I feel like we found a big family here,” Fan says. They always feel welcome and accepted and part of a community—feelings that perfectly encapsulate Shabbat, Chava says.
“The lights of the Shabbat candles are symbolic of the light we see in each other’s eyes,” Chava says. “Shabbat is for connection with other people—that’s universal.”