PJ’s, shabbat, and musak in a time of COVID-19

COVID-19 changes everything, but Shabbat and Muzak endure

Shabbat services via livestream during COVID-19

Recently, just before we were all told to shelter in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but after people and were already taking significant precautions, my synagogue held Shabbat morning services via livestream. A small number of folks were spread wide apart in the sanctuary, while a few dozen of us participated online.

I hope you enjoy this poetic telling of how the story unfolded for me and my wife that morning in our dining room.

Just so you know, it involves pajamas, music, and muzak, and requires a decent sense of humor if you’re going to take it seriously.

Pajamas on shabbat: story from a time of coronavirus

It’s Saturday morning at home
not so unusual for
a renegade rabbi
who prefers many weeks
to study Torah in bed
in my pajamas
rather than go to synagogue
while you, an early riser,
perform your weekly ritual
of gym and Pilates,
with a multi-talented teacher
who often  entices us
to attend plays she graces
with skillful performances
when she's not teaching Pilates.
But Saturday being,
as it is, Shabbat,
and seeing as how
I love Shabbat,
a day for rest,
and rejuvenation,
in body and spirit,
for all the generations
for the All of Everything,
from when God, or people,
or some Great Force of Knowing
first announced the possibility
from that time forward,
forever, every week,
it's Shabbat
and since I often find my best
rest, and rejuvenation,
in the quiet spaces between
the words of Torah, between
sleep and full wakefulness,
between lying still, and
full-on activity, between
the solitary,
and the social
and much as I love
my communities,
and while Shabbat
is largely considered
to be a communal event
when this time
of week arrives
on Saturday morning
I usually just want to be
in those in between spaces,
sitting in bed,
in my pajamas,
reading Torah
and then, maybe later,
cracking eggs, and
sauteing veggies with you,
for an omelet we share
after our respective
morning activity.
A different kind of Shabbat mornng
But today is different,
as so many things are
right now.
Your teacher is away
to do a play we were hoping
to see next week,
and the Pilates studio
will be closing soon anyways
due to coronavirus.
I’m in my pajamas, yes,
but we're together,
in the dining room,
having already eaten
and we’re joined
with our community
in safe social distance
via livestream.
A couple of dozen people
are at the synagogue,
spread out, six feet apart,
with three leaders
at the front of the room
the rest of us
spread out in nearby
cities, and neighborhoods,
in the confines of our homes
while one person reports
logging in from Indiana.
Halleluyah, we sing,
Hallelu-Yah, praise to the Source
and Breath of Life
for this loving community,
this sacred gathering
the singing is joyful,
I get up to dance for a while,
tallis swirling with its design
of flying doves, that I imagine
soaring, and diving,
and enfolding us
in their expansive wings,
like the Shekhina,
the Divine Presence
and then,
in the spacious quiet
after the singing,
I settle back peacefully,
into my chair.
Planning a trip
We’ve been planning a trip,
you and I, a weekend respite,
inspired by wanting to see
your Pilates instructor’s play,
an hour’s flight away,
in a city near places
of amazing natural beauty
but now we need to cancel,
because, well, we all know...
Yesterday, I called the booking site,
and got a busy signal for hours.
You called this morning, and
are already on hold for forty minutes
when services start.
Repetitive Musak wafts
from the phone across the room,
along with the occasional
automated message.
“We’re experiencing longer
than usual delays.
Please stay on the line,
and we’ll answer your call
as soon as possible.
We value your patronage.”
Under normal circumstances,
I wouldn’t deal with this
on Shabbat, would go
into a separate room
to avoid the electronic
dissonance, would leave you
to deal with it.
But I find it comforting,
and fun, to be in services
with you, something we rarely
do together Shabbat mornings,
and here, no less,
at the dining room table,
something that’s never
happened before
and I don’t want this
task to linger,
and be charged a fee.
I want this taken care of,
so I stay in this
in-between spot, between
hearing the Musak,
and drowning it out
with song and prayer,
between laughing with you
about it,
and being annoyed,
between hearing
the interruption
of its repetitive drone,
and worrying
that we’ll miss it
when a live person
finally comes on the line
and our hearing
isn't as good
as it was, aging being
what it is,
and we are in this
together, so
I feel obliged,
and find my usual strategies
of meeting Shabbat
with limited technology
are all the more strained
in this already strange
and complicated moment.
I find myself
in two worlds,
the precious sacred
world of Shabbat,
and the other-ly sacred
remainder of Life,

which ironically,
includes cancelling
a time for us
to slow down,
and be together,
to explore a city
we don’t know well,
to visit rushing rivers,
and waterfalls,
all intended for rest
and rejuvenation.
But right now we’re here,
in our dining room,
me in PJ’s and tallis,
you in a tee,
with corduroy over-shirt,
computer, and prayer book,
and hearts open
to this multi-faceted
connection, while we face

the undeniable force,
the constantly shifting rapids
of a fast-spreading pandemic
we all,
and communities,
here, and there,
and all the places in between.
Cascading rapids
We reach
the part of the service
recalling the story
of our ancient ancestors
miraculously crossing
the Reed Sea,
and we’re reminded
to think of “them”
as “us”, traversing
the muddy sea-floor,
roaring waves
parting for us.
hundreds of thousands
of us, mucking our way
from the narrowness
of bondage, to the
and awesomeness,
of unknown freedom,
and we sing
"Mi chamocha, ba-elim YHVH,"
What could be like You,
like this,
Miraculous Wonder-Maker,
so hard to see
when we’re trudging
through the thick of it all.
"Baruch ata YaH,
go-el Yisrael."
Blessed are You,
Reminder of Hopefulness,
carrying our restless
and wrestling spirits
to the other side of the sea.
And then,
just as we finish
that prayer, and before
the silent Amidah prayers
that follow, we hear,
clear, unmistakable,
a new voice in the room.
“This is Kristin at
Capital One Travel.
How can I help you today?”
Carbapple trees outside out window
You go to deal
with the call,
I go to the window,
face the blossoming
crabapple tree,
and recite the prayers
for the ancestors,
for salvation,
for holiness,
for Shabbat,
for gratitude
and you may not know it
but I am grateful
you’re dealing with that call
so I can continue to pray

so in case
I haven’t said it yet
thank you, thank you

thank you.
These prayers end,
as they always do,
with the oseh shalom,
a prayer for peace.
Oh, right,

we still need that.
May it be so.

©2020 Shifrah Tobacman
Shifrah davennen on Shabbat in PJ’s

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About Rabbi Shifrah


I’m a rabbi, holistic teacher, interfaith chaplain, end of life doula, and poet. I have a healer’s spirit, and am dedicated to social, economic, and environmental justice. I live in Emeryville, CA with my beloved wife Ruth, with whom I’ve been happily partnered for over twenty-two years.

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Reader Interactions

  1. You have always written beautiful poetry-this one is no exception. I can see you in your tali’s and P.J.’s and I am reminded of Saturday mornings eating homemade Challah and watching Abey Rooney/Judy Garland movies together with whomever showed up in my room!
    So glad you found your path and your love!

    • So sweet to hear from you, Holly! And to trip down memory lane with you. Wising you and everyone you love well in this weird and challenging time. Sending much love!

  2. OH, thank you for taking me along on your shabbat journey, Rabi Shifrah. This afternoon I took a walk around my lovely springing Sebastopol neighborhood and so enjoyed the blossoming trees and, rosemary bushes in bloom, daffodils and day lilies. Happy Spring Equinox.


    • Hello Lilith. So good to hear from you. I’m grateful that we are all on this journey together, in one way or another. and yes, it’s great to acknowledge that while noticing the beauty of spring. Happy Equinox to you, too!

      When my wife and I went walking on a park trail yesterday, it was good to see people out, while also (for the most part) keeping safe distance as we exchanged friendly greetings. A woman much younger and faster than us warned us as she came up on our left, offered a friendly hello, which we of course offered in return. Then she said, “I’m enjoying the courtesy everyone’s having with each other. After all, you may be the only people I see today. I live alone.” “Happy to be with you! for a bit along the way,” we said. I’m struck by how much we don’t know about the people around us, and yet how much we can still impact each others’ well-being.

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