My husband and I were invited to share in the observance of Shabbat at the home of our local Chabad emissaries in Mobile, Ala., Rabbi Yosef and Rebbetzin Bina Goldwasser.

As I have written previously, I was not brought up in a household that observed any Jewish traditions. But the rabbi and his wife have become friends and mentors in myThe rabbi and his wife have become friends and mentors Jewish education, and I was excited to share my first true Shabbat with them. My husband, who is not Jewish, is also supportive of my endeavor to live a Jewish life, and participates in that endeavor. I always light candles and pray at the appropriate hour before Shabbat, but that was about as far as I had gotten in learning to truly embrace and value the Sabbath, given by a G‑d who knows His creations needs a time of rest, and physical as well as spiritual refreshment.

The rabbi had come to my house earlier in the day to check out my kitchen so I could bake a kosher challah to share with his family. Now, challah baked and packaged, I prepared for the evening. I dressed very conservatively, covering my hair with a scarf in order to honor the tradition of their household. As I am no longer young, when I looked in the mirror, I saw my own bubbie reflected there and knew she would approve of this leap in my Jewish education.

We arrived a bit early and the joy in the household was palpable. The rabbi, Bina, and their beautiful boys, Mendel and Berel, were all helping in a flurry of effort to finish the preparations before Shabbat began. I helped make some of the salads, and the rabbi spent some time talking with my husband.

Mendel was delirious with the delightful smell of cinnamon and brown sugar emanating from my still-warm challah, and could hardly wait for dinner to commence.

Soon, it was time to light the Shabbat candles. It brought tears to my eyes to have the honor of lighting two of the six candles, beautifully displayed in silver holders. Bina and I circled the light with our hands, covered our faces to say the blessing together aloud in Hebrew, and silently prayed for our personal needs.

At the table, we stood and sang. The first song, “Shalom Aleichem,” was so familiar, it must have been implanted in my memory from a long-ago time in my childhood spent with my grandparents. As I am just learning to read Hebrew, I followed the transliteration and sang with all the fullness in my heart. Taking part in the prayers and singing was like being transported to a new and better place, as I am sure Shabbat is meant to be. It is not only the mitzvah of observance; it is the resulting spiritual place of well-being and joy.

Soon, the Hamotzi blessing was recited and the fragrance and sweetness of the challah started a delicious meal and wonderful conversation. Berel, who is only 3, with the help of his father, talked with great enthusiasm about two mitzvahs from that week’s Torah portion. Mendel, who is 7, quite eloquently described two more. I was amazed and humbled by these little ones schooling me, and making me a better Jew and a better person in the process.

The grownups ate and talked about Jewish law, family life and whatever questions I wanted answers to. I had lots of them concerning the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—about whom I had been reading and about whom I yearned to know more. The rabbi and Bina had pictures of times they met him personally and even their stories of him imbued in me a renewed understanding of how Jews need to reach out to each other with love and empathy and compassion as the Rebbe did.

From where I sat atWe were simply welcomed the table, I was able to watch the candles burning—symbols of G‑d’s light in an increasingly dark world, symbols of hope and peace that Shabbat is meant to impart to each of us.

The intimacy and grace of this shared Shabbat—my very first true celebration of Shabbat—cannot be adequately expressed. My husband and I were welcomed into this observant household with no preconceived expectations. We were simply welcomed.

From that experience, I will never look at Shabbat in the same way again. In the simplicity of rest and renewal, in the practice of mitzvahs to hasten the coming of Moshiach, I am moved, yet again, further into a Jewish life. The blessing of this first experience with Shabbat can never be duplicated, but it can become a cornerstone of my Jewish education and life.