The New York Times continues to be a gold mine of blog fodder. Thanks, y’all!
So people’s hectic, wired, 24/7 lives are getting to them. They want a day off. Completely off. But they don’t want rules. They don’t want pre-cut toilet paper.* They want to unplug and, as a bonus, return to traditional gender roles!** (Not sure where the blessing of the wife comes from, though–is that the answer to Eshet Chayil?) Awesome.
It’s more that just the break from the computer and the bills and the errands. Don’t get me wrong; when I first started keeping Shabbat in college I really felt like the 25-hour release from my chemistry book was saving me. If it weren’t for Shabbat, Taxman would have worked straight through every March without coming up for air. That wouldn’t have been good for anyone.
But to me Shabbat is multi-faceted, and Shabbat observance is like concentric circles.
At the core is the individual. It is a day to be with oneself. People do that in different ways. Napping, reading, walking, praying, thinking, drinking a cup of tea in a cozy chair. Now, this may only happen in five-minute snatches or when the kids go to bed, but I try to make sure it happens every week, even if I have to stay up late with my book or throw everyone else out to the park late on Saturday afternoon.
The family is the next circle. Shabbat is where we make up for all of our failings as a family during the week. The lack of family dinners, the hard-working and late-arriving abba, the short stories, and the rushed bedtimes. It is a time to be together, eat together, sing songs, read multiple chapters of Roald Dahl or EB White, take naps, and then eat dessert, drink coffee, and play Rummikub.
Outward from our family, though, is the community. Our synagogue and our friends. This is what goes missing from the cultural Shabbat celebrations described in the Times article. If you’re only unplugging yourself from your electronic devices and busy life, what are you going to plug into instead? There has to be an instead–only the truly burnt out would want absolutely nothing to fill the void that’s created when you have a huge pocket of unstructured time on a regular basis.
Getting involved with my university’s Hillel and the programming there was what saved Shabbat for me. Quite early in my first year, I bought a concert ticket for a Saturday evening performance. It became clear that I was going to have to leave campus before Shabbat was over in order to get to the concert venue on time. I did, and I had a good time at the concert.
I didn’t feel good about it afterwards–I wasn’t expecting lightening to come strike me down for violating Shabbat in the religious sense, but I felt really alone. I had had a fun time but hadn’t shared it with anyone. Was that what I wanted? What I had been searching for? No. What I seeking was connections with other people. I wasn’t going to find that with a bunch of strangers gathered together for a couple of hours.
Instead of just showing up for services and Friday night dinner, I integrated myself more into the community. I made new friends. I put away the chemistry book. I didn’t miss anything from my Sunday to Friday life. Outside of the hothouse of college, I was happy to keep my level of religious observance because I knew that it was more than just me, more than just the community. Eventually I wanted a family to fill in the middle circle. More than a dozen years later, I’ve got the middle to my Oreo cookie (certified kosher since 1997!), my family. The family is the center; it balances the selfish wants of the individual and the needs of the community.
But Kate, you might argue, why can’t you have all of that–the self, the family, the community–without the religious observance and the details and the rules and the stressful Fridays? My answer is, maybe YOU can.
I can’t. For me, it’s a package deal. Friday night candles bring it in; the Havdalah candle ushers it out. The prep work ahead of time is balanced by peacefully sitting down with my family or having a good time entertaining guests (hint: don’t come if you don’t like garlic). It’s blessing my children Friday night (and being blessed by my in-laws when we are with them) before we eat, but watching them take hold of the traditions themselves as they hold their silver kiddush cups and sanctify the Shabbat evening (or day) themselves, using the language of the Torah.
My culture and religion–and now my language and State–are bound up together. I want to separate myself from the hustle and bustle…but I don’t want to be isolated.
* Have you ever noticed that when people talk about the strictures of Shabbat they zero in on the stupidest things of all? For those of you who think that I might spend my Friday afternoons tearing rolls of toilet paper square by square, I don’t. There are lots of ways to manage this: 1. use tissues 2. cut through rolls of toilet paper with scissors beforehand 3. use packaged, pre-cut toilet tissue (not as cushy as tissues; this is far more common in Israel).
** Really? To me this is more a return to the 1950s. In real modern Orthodox Judaism (in Israel I think even more than in the US), you have a lot of couples in which both partners work. This means that probably the person who enjoys cooking more will do the lion’s share of it. Or one partner cooks and the other bakes. Or one shops and the other cooks. Or one cooks and the other cleans. Neither cooks and they buy takeout food. Just…ugh. I am the SAH/WAH parent, and most of the shopping and cooking falls on me. I don’t mind it–I used to really love cooking and entertaining–but I’d never say that this is the Way It Should Be. As it stands now, AM is much more interested in what goes on in the kitchen–and I’ll be happy to teach him what I can. If he’d just stay away from the santoku.