Shabbat in an Altoids Tin

Shabbat in an Altoids Tin

Friday Lights in a tin. (photo: I. Bardugo)

by R.C. Berman - Springfield, MA

July 27, 2007

Last year, 140,000 Jewish women popped the top off moss green FridayLight tins and found, not curiously strong mints, but a Shabbat candle-lighting kit. Delighted by the successful launch, Chabad of California is seeking to broaden its reach by producing kits in French, Spanish, Russian and Hebrew.

Mod design, eco colors and a spiritual message allow FridayLight kits to cross into new frontiers, program director Rabbi Ari Baitelman told Inside each kit are four tea lights, matches, a guide and necklace. “It doesn’t look like your grandmother’s Shabbos candles.”

For nearly four decades Chabad has been urging Jewish women to light Shabbat candles. The practice ushers in the Sabbath and may be understood on many spiritual levels. Bringing tranquility to the home and a spark of light to a world rife with metaphorical darkness are among the reasons cited by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, for lighting the candles. The Lubavitcher Rebbe initiated the campaign to spread the observance in the 1970s, and it has reached a worldwide audience.

Rabbi Baitelman rattled off a list of those who’ve ordered the kits outside of the usual Chabad circles. Among them, Sinai Temple, a prominent conservative synagogue in southern California, which bought 1000 for inclusion in their Purim packages. A woman about to undergo a surgery for cancer purchased several dozen of the $1 kits for her friends and relatives to use as they prayed for her recovery.

Another bulk order came in from the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts. They became part of a pack handed out to 150 families participating in the Rekindle Shabbat program in Springfield, North Hampton and Amherst. The program brings families together to share four Shabbat meals throughout the year.  Coordinator Chava Edelman chose FridayLight kits because of their design and the explanatory materials that explained the spirit behind the deed. 

“The whole image lets you see lighting Shabbat candles as something that goes with your life.” She tucked them in among the Kiddush cups, kippas, challah covers and other paraphernalia and got good feedback. “They’re so much more appealing than flimsy candlesticks.”

By reinventing the look and feel of an age-old mitzvah, Chabad is working to pump up the numbers of women who light Shabbat candles each week. A 2005 study of the Greater Boston Community by the Steinhardt Social Research Institute found that Shabbat candles are always lit in 18% of the 3000 households surveyed. In contrast, Chanukah candles are always lit by 68%. Given Boston’s solid Jewish infrastructure and relatively strong numbers of traditional Jews in the area, it’s likely that Shabbat candle-lighting rates elsewhere are lower.

To combat the low stats, Chabad added two new tools to the kit: a website and a necklace. Both aim to nurture a community of candle-lighting women.’s pages include a space for women to share their candle-lighting experiences, essays by women around the world, and map of the U.S. and Canada with a flickering candle icon for every city with a registered user. By registering at users are notified of weekly Shabbat candle-lighting times, eighteen minutes before sunset, via email or text-message. So far, 5000 women have signed up.

The necklace’s pendant, a Picasso-esque hand looped ‘round a flame, has already worked its charms. Chana Tiechtel, a Chabad representative in Tempe, AZ, handed FridayLight kits out to the students at a program in Arizona State University and to girls at Camp Gan Israel. Shortly afterward, an ASU student reported back that she’d been approached by one of Tiechtel’s campers at the mall because the two were both wearing their FridayLight necklaces.

Instances like this have Tiechtel eager to find more venues to hand out the kits. Friends of hers have used the kits as bat mitzvah favors and at their daughters’ third birthdays, the age young girls first light Shabbat candles. She’s thinking of handing them out to AEPhi sorority sisters who’ve invited her to talk at the beginning of next semester and envisions them fitting right in at a “Spa for the Soul” event.

FridayLight kits, said Tietchtel, “make the mitzvah more versatile because they are done so beautifully.”

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