Issue 7: Shabbat

“Every week, I have something to celebrate. Here’s how it went last week: after sunset on Friday, I received kind words and a hug from my dad before we sat at the dinner table with my friends and family. We ate fancy bread, drank grape juice, and washed our hands before enjoying the meal my parents had been preparing for hours.” 

That’s how I’ve been explaining Shabbat to my non-Jewish friends for as long as I can remember. But this tradition that I’ve been simplifying for years, is far more meaningful than I often make it out to be.

Over the course of more than nine hundred such Friday nights, I’ve come to appreciate Shabbat’s cognitive and social impact. Besides its meaning and symbolism, it has served as a tool that greatly benefits my mental wellness. Although I value my commitments to various workweek obligations, the routine can periodically get the best of me. It’s helpful knowing that the week will always reach a restful end, where I’ll be with people who are important to me, and with whom it makes me happy to reconnect.

We cast smiles across the table and hold back laughs to remain quiet during the blessings. I get updates on my little sister’s shenanigans, and my close friends’ social lives. My uncle always goes on tangents where he tries to impart wisdom to the younger generation. The charm of this weekly holiday lies in its comforting guarantee of eventful interaction. It’s my reliable, cheerful reboot.

Often I’m asked: “But what happens when you’re not home? Do you just not do it?”

“Well, sometimes we go over to a family friend’s house and do Shabbat dinner there. Just as we have our own familial practices, each Jewish family will have certain traditions that they celebrate.”

“What if you’re on vacation?”

After packing a small set of candleholders, a prayer book to read blessings from, and purchasing a bottle of wine/grape juice from any nearby store, we create a portable Shabbat setup. 

At times I enjoy our satellite celebrations more than our at-home ones. Not only do they help me feel connected to home wherever I am in the world, but they also remind me that I am part of something greater than myself. When we observe Shabbat, millions of Jewish people are simultaneously commemorating their days of rest just as I am. 

“What if you have nowhere to go?”

Although there’s nothing wrong with spending Shabbat alone, you by no means should have to. I am lucky to be part of an incredibly welcoming community that encourages sharing traditions and including others. Whether I’m in college, abroad, at home, or moving into a new town, I always know that I can find a group of people to celebrate with. 

When my great-grandmother followed my mother to the United States, neither she nor the rest of my family knew very much English. In an attempt to meet new people, she went to the local temple on Shabbat and sat in on the Friday night service. Regardless of the language barrier, they were all able to join in on the shared customs together as mere friendly strangers. That was Temple Emmanuel. That is the power of tradition.