“It’s Friday!” Coach yelled.

“Yahoo!” we’d respond at the top of our lungs.

We sat cross-legged in our long gray shirts and shorts on the hard black cement. Even though we sat in three straight parallel lines, we’d never felt so free. Coach blew the whistle and we were dismissed from class. We were one step closer to Saturday.

We all wanted the same thing: the weekendFrom kindergarten until eighth grade, the drill was always the same. But, for some reason, it never got old. I always looked forward to this one small ritual at the end of my physical education class on Friday. Every kid was unified in that moment with every other child in the schoolyard. It didn’t matter if you were the geeky kid with glasses, or the most popular kid in school. We all wanted the same thing: the weekend.

My childhood was a magical time. There were ups and downs, of course, but the world just seemed so peaceful. The day when it seemed most this way was always my birthday. On my birthday, everything was just right. My friends and family surrounded and celebrated with me. They would sing me the birthday song as my mother would bring out the lovely cake.

Childhood rituals brightened up my mundane schoolgirl world. They not only taught me that life was worth living, but they emphasized what life should be. I looked forward to them almost as much as I looked forward to what they celebrated. Growing up, I looked at the world wide-eyed. I could be whatever I wanted to be. The world was kind.

Flash forward. As an adult, I’m more aware of the world. I know it’s not perfect, and sometimes that makes me anxious. I stop in my tracks and worry. I feel so small. But then I’m reminded of the weekend and the small act that starts it off, which makes a big impact on my thinking.

I light Shabbat candles on Friday nights. It’s my grown-up ritual to usher in, not just the weekend, but Shabbat. Taking the candles out of the drawer, I smile to myself. “It’s Friday,” I whisper.

Lighting Shabbat candles is the highlight of my week. It marks the fact that the weekend is here. It gives me the ultimate power to usher it in. The candle is my milestone. It’s Coach yelling, “It’s Friday!” It’s a birthday every week.

Birthdays will always come and go every year, just like Shabbat comes and goes every week. But the most special birthdays, the most memorable ones, are marked by something special that I do on that day. The beautiful birthday cakes with candles atop them mark a celebration.

My memories hark back to my mother holding the cake with the number of candles specific to my birth year. Their light danced in my eyes as I thought of a wish I’d like to make for the coming year. I can make a difference, I would think.

Three represents strength in JudaismAs I wave my hands three times over the Shabbat candle, I often recall the three parallel lines we sat in on the playground. Three represents strength in Judaism. Interestingly enough, the two Friday rituals in my life involve the number three. It is a reminder of the strength that the weekend and Shabbat reinvigorates me with. The strength is always there inside me, but sometimes I forget. The candle’s glow reminds me. It’s like turning on a light in a room and seeing what was always there, that you had forgotten about in the darkness.

As I recite the blessing, I imagine myself singing “Happy Birthday” to the earth which was created in seven days. I imagine G‑d as a proud parent looking down at His creation every week and beaming. I may be lighting the candles, but He is holding the cake. I am reminded that no matter what life throws at me, I should always be like a candle, finding the light in the darkness and brightening up the world.

In the silent moments of my candle-lighting, I imagine many Jewish women around the globe also lighting their candles. I feel we are unified for one small moment in our week. We may not speak the same language, and we may live at opposite ends of the globe, but we, each of us, are connected by this seemingly small act that we do on Friday nights. Each small act performed together makes a pretty big whole.

I also remember my ancestors. They must have been strong Jewish women. I know it wasn’t always so easy to be Jewish. But I am evidence that they kept the tradition nevertheless. I am sure it is due to their light that I am able to light my candle on this night. I imagine them lighting their candles every Friday as I’m lighting mine. In a moment, past and present collide into one.

Candle-lighting reminds me of a Chinese proverb: “Better to light one small candle, than to curse the darkness.” Lighting candles is a statement of hope. I am reminded that we can’t give up on the world or on our lives. Let’s not complain about the evil in the world. Instead, let us act against the injustices by creating something beautiful.

Lighting candles is one of three special mitzvahs, commandments, given to women. The other two are challah and family purity. Candles obviously serve the purpose of remembering and honoring the Shabbat, but they also serve to bring peace to the home.

No matter which way you turn it, a flame will always rise upA good home is fostered by warmth, direction, and encouragement. A candle symbolizes all three. No matter which way you turn it, a flame will always rise up. Home should be a place of love and belonging, where you can be yourself and shine to your fullest. A good home should energize us to rise up to reach our potential.

I have a tradition to pray over the candle for my loved ones. I keep a list of what they need in their lives. Every Friday I recite it. It’s so nice to end the week thinking of others. I realize we all need the same things in life. We are not so different after all. Suddenly, we are together screaming “Yahoo” for the weekend and enjoying the cake of life.

I watch the candle for a little while dancing back and forth. Another week has ended and a new one is beginning. The candle represents my success of getting through another week, as well as my potential to be even better in the week ahead.

For many generations, candle-lighting has always been a Sabbath tradition. It is a tie to our past as well as our future. It unifies us with one another. It’s filled with so much meaning, and yet is such a simple act. It is the small things, like the little candles of a birthday cake, which make the difference.

I look at my candle’s flame jumping up and down in excitement. Suddenly, I am again the little girl on the playground. It’s as if the flame is shouting, “It’s Friday, it’s Friday.” I smile widely and think, “Yahoo!”