Most people know that Jews have holidays that occur intermittently throughout the year, usually in the fall. What they don’t know is about the most important holiday of all: the Sabbath, or as we like to call it, Shabbat.
Shabbat is like an island of peace to which we Jews can escape one day a week, every week. For the rest of time.
Growing up, my family observed Shabbat pretty strictly, starting off with Friday night dinner and continuing with 25 hours total of no technology (computers, TV, and later, cell phones). No drawing, no writing, no going anywhere in the car, no spending money. All there was to do was go to shul on Saturday mornings (where, if I was lucky, we’d have a luncheon) and then spending the rest of the day alternating between eating in the kitchen, sleeping either in bed or on the couch downstairs, or reading, anywhere. All up until an hour after sunset, when we’d do Havdalah at the kitchen counter. I always got to hold the candle since I was the youngest. One of the few perks of being a younger sibling.
After I left home, Shabbat became harder and harder to observe. I started to crack under the pressure of college life, especially one with few Jews. I remember resorting to counting the ceiling tiles in my dorm room over and over. I couldn’t go to the dining hall because I had to swipe in, so I’d have to make do with whatever food I had in my room. It was hard, and probably contributed to why I didn’t do so well there. I also ended up needing to do work on Shabbat in my sophomore year, a move which my parents didn’t endorse but approved of since it was for my education. It was also a move that worked in my favor, I think, for when I went to submit the paper to my professor I told her it was the first time I’d broken Shabbat in my whole life (probably not entirely true, but to this extent, at least), which earned me an apology for her and maybe a few sympathy points even though I ended up with an A anyway.
Through junior and senior years I tried to keep Shabbat the best I could, but it was mostly loneliness that caused me to break. One particularly lonely Passover, when everyone else went home but I couldn’t arrange it, I was on the phone with my dad and he told me that if I was really that upset and lonely, I should find a computer game to distract me for a little while, which is when I discovered (and became addicted to) Phantom Mansion, this weird little Internet game thing that I never did quite beat but I got pretty darn close.
In Israel, keeping Shabbat was much easier, but ever since that Passover, I did not feel as compelled to keep it 100%. I tried to, but sometimes I just needed to get on the computer for a little while. On a few particularly lonely Saturdays, including Yom Kippur, I spent the whole night and day holed up in my office at the theater, sleeping on my couch (which I wasn’t technically supposed to do, but no one ever caught me) and getting work done during the day so I could get a jump on the week.
Houston is pretty much when my Shabbat-keeping completely fell apart. It started when I told a friend (who wasn’t Jewish) that I would walk 2 miles each way to and from Chabad on Friday nights, which prompted her to say that if she ever saw me doing that, she’d pick me up and throw me in her car, so after that (and knowing how dangerous Houston at night can be) whenever I went to Chabad, save for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I would drive and feel incredibly guilty about it even though most people did the same because it’s Houston and you have to drive everywhere anyway. Usually I spent most of Shabbat doing what I did the rest of the week: watching TV, exercising, making food, doing work, and hanging out on the computer. I remember spending 8-9 hours one Shabbat on my computer translating some Slovak, without which I would’ve never finished my thesis.
One of the things I was looking forward to about moving to Wisconsin was observing Shabbat more strictly, because now I live merely blocks from Chabad, and I could probably transition back to not using technology pretty quickly. But it’s been hard not to check my email or my phone at all, but I hope that’ll change, at least as soon as the play is over.
I miss that feeling that I could be completely at peace, just praying, reading and doing non-technology-related activities that I enjoy, like taking walks, napping, or just kicking back and enjoying the day. I never liked Shabbat growing up because there was so much my parents wouldn’t let me do, but now I wish I could go back to then, that innocent time when Shabbat meant resting in its purest and highest form, and thinking about being closer to God and to myself. Maybe when I get back to Madison from Houston I can start, little by little. Shabbat is a weekly gift, and Friday night especially – as a girl I went to college with termed it, “my date with God.” Collecting my thoughts and connecting with my feelings is something that I could definitely use 25 hours of my week to focus on.
Shabbat, shabbat, I will forget thee not.