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   Spirituality & Traditions

 WINTER ISSUE 2002  SUBSCRIBE

illustration İ 2002 Ilene Winn-Lederer About the Artist: Artist Ilene Winn-Lederer, whose work "The Sabbath Kedushah" appears with this article, enjoys interpreting tales of her family heritage in both traditional and contemporary terms. In her Pittsburgh studio, she creates limited-edition prints, posters and original artwork for collectors and corporate clients. To learn more, go to www.winnlederer.com or call 800-593-4278.

Rediscovering Shabbat
In a high-speed world, more women are turning to Shabbat as a way to find meaning and peace for themselves and their families.
By Robin K. Levinson

When 37-year-old Laurie Moskowitz of Washington, D.C., was growing up, Shabbat observance amounted to her mother lighting candles on Friday night. Today, Moskowitz's Sabbath includes chanting blessings, relishing a home-cooked meal on a beautifully appointed table, walking to services, davening with a minyan of 250, and visiting friends or relaxing at home with her husband and baby.

Anna Batler's parents don't observe Shabbat. Yet this precocious 18-year-old Russian immigrant came to identify herself as an Orthodox Jew by her junior year in high school. Step by step, Batler has embraced almost all the Shabbat rituals and restrictions.

Environmental educator Barbara Lerman-Golomb, 43, is a lifelong Shabbat celebrant on Friday night but always treated Saturday as a regular day. That is until two summers ago, when she attended a Jewish retreat in the Alaskan wilderness. Since then, she has stopped shopping on Saturday and instead spends time with her familyhiking, visiting a museum, or engaging in "artistic play" at home.

"Making that one small change can have a great impact on one's life," she says. "I have become more conscious of over-consumption, and how Saturday has become a day for shopping for so many Jewish Americans."

Disabled by multiple sclerosis, Dafna Yee, 47, and her two teenage daughters recently reinstated Friday-night blessings over candles, wine, and challaheven if it must be done at Yee's bedside in their Texas home. Her 14-year-old had complained that evangelicals were pressuring her to convert to Christianity. "One of her friends started crying because she worried that Kathy would go to hell if she didn't accept Jesus," Yee relates. "That was part of the impetus. Also, my girls are now old enough to prepare for Shabbat if I'm not up to it."

By some measures, the percentage of Jews who observe Shabbat appears small in the United Statesthe 1990 National Jewish Population Survey found that 36 percent of Jewish households light Sabbath candles, and about 11 percent of Jews attend synagogue weekly. But statistics don't tell the whole story.

"There are lots of ways in which Jewish life is being transformed in this country," says Shuly Rubin Schwartz, assistant professor of American Jewish history and dean of Albert A. List College at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. "By tracking observance by using traditional methods, such as synagogue attendance, researchers may be missing the new ways in which some Jews are reclaiming Shabbat, finding meaning in Shabbat."

For instance, a woman who goes to the spa every Saturday might feel she is honoring the Sabbath by separating herself from the daily grind. A mother might order in pizza on Friday nights because that's the night everybody is home. "Is that Shabbat observance or not? Maybe the family thinks it is," Schwartz says.

Observing Shabbat is not an all-or-nothing proposition, says Cantor Stuart Binder of Congregation Beth Chaim, a Reform synagogue in Princeton Junction, N.J. "If the only thing you do is light candles on Friday night, and if that's an expression of your desire to make the Sabbath holy for you, then you've caught the idea." And since Shabbat is a sanctification of time, rather than space, it can be observed virtually anywherethe home, the synagogue, a hotel room, or a garden.

According to Francine Klagsbrun, author of The Fourth Commandment: Remembering the Sabbath Day (Harmony Books, 2002) and several other Jewish works, women have a special connection with the holiday. Shabbat doesn't officially start until the woman lights the candles. The traditional Shabbat song "L'cha Dodi" refers to the kabbalistic vision of the Sabbath bride ushering in the Shekhinah, or the female aspect of God.

"Talk to anybody who thinks back nostalgically to the Sabbaths of their youth, and they point to the aromas, chicken soup, white tableclothall things that women did," says Klagsbrun. "I wrote the book partly because I felt that women didn't get the recognition they deserved for this."

Women throughout the country are discovering or rediscovering their connection to Shabbat in ways both traditional and innovative, if interviews with a dozen of these women are any indication.

One likely explanation for this phenomenon relates to the life cycle, according to Schwartz. As people become parents and enter middle adulthood, they often search for ways to bring more meaning into their lives and their children's lives. Shabbat has the potential of simultaneously filling that spiritual void and nurturing a family's cohesiveness, while continuing a tradition that has kept the Jewish people alive.

Freelance writer Bari Siegel, 36, started observing Shabbat about two and a half years ago, after members of a nearby Orthodox community began inviting her to celebrate Shabbat with them. "When I make Shabbat dinner or attend a Shabbaton [a communal shabbat celebration], I feel a sense of peace, as though I'm infusing some very positive energy into my family life," explains Siegel, who has a four-year-old daughter and an infant son.

"Until a year ago, we'd still do things on Saturday," says Stephanie Kaufman, 37, mother of three children, ages three, five, and seven. Her inclusion of Saturday observance came soon after her eldest child, David, entered Jewish day school. "He was learning more about Shabbat, and he always liked going to synagogue, so we figured we'd try to grasp it a little bit more," Kaufman explains. "We go to synagogue virtually every Shabbat now. Then we'll usually stay home and play games with the kids."

Another factor driving some women to honor Shabbat, albeit not a new one, is the need for stress relief. Historically in Eastern Europe, eating to satiety on Friday night might have relieved the stress of not having enough to eat the rest of the week, Schwartz points out. "Today, thank God, we have enough to eat, but we're overwhelmed by our cell phones and computers and email and carpooling. Here's one day when we can let go of all of that."

Anna Batler, who moved from her hometown on the Caspian Sea to the United States at age seven, agrees. "I have one day when I can't do homework or chores. I'm forced to relax in a busy world where I might not have taken the time to relax."

Not working on Shabbat also encourages Batler to manage her time more efficiently. "If I know I'm not going to have Saturday to do my English project, I do it during the week," she explains. "I wind up having even more time because I economize my time."

In recent decades, there was a trend of young Jewish adults avoiding Shabbat services because they were rebelling against their "parents' Judaism," but that attitude has largely become passé, Schwartz notes. "We no longer have to say, 'Well, I'm not going to find it in Judaism because Judaism is oppressive and sexist; I have to go to an ashram. You say, 'Okay, if I can't find it in my parents' synagogue, maybe there's a different synagogue that will appeal to me.' "

For most of her life, Danielle Celermajer, a 38-year-old human rights activist who moved to Manhattan from her native Australia four years ago, had a negative attitude toward Judaism. Yearning for spiritual connection, Celermajer tried Buddhism and Taoism before realizing that her feelings about Judaism had nothing to do with her own connection to her religion; it was an attitude she'd inherited from her parents, both Holocaust survivors.

One of her main inspirations to delve into her faith was hearing her rabbi describe Shabbat as a "gift" from God. "It seemed absurd not to take a look at the gift," Celermajer says. She has been unwrapping it ever since. "My being feels cleaner, washed of the debris of activity and distraction and business. I notice more. This is still unfolding."

Before Shabbat can unfold in their lives, most American Jews must confront a number of issues. A big one is resisting the lure of secular activities, such as movies, parties, and Saturday- afternoon baseball games. "The key I have found is constancy," says Rabbi Jay Kornsgold of Beth El Synagogue, a Conservative congregation in East Windsor, N.J. "If people begin to make it a regular part of their lives and stop allowing other things to get in way, eventually it becomes kind of a habit to observe."

Kornsgold says people usually understand and respect their Shabbat- observant friends and may even start scheduling social gatherings on Sunday instead of Friday night or Saturday. Last summer, Batler attended an Amnesty International convention in Washington, D.C., that was shifted from Saturday, in part, to accommodate her Sabbath travel restrictions.

Shabbat observance can be intimidating to non-Orthodox Jews if they assume that the only authentic approach is to become Shomer Shabbat (a "guardian" of the Sabbath). This commonly used term refers to Jews who observe in the strictest sense, including not carrying or tearing things, not driving, not cooking, and not turning lights on and off for 25 hours beginning 18 minutes before sundown each Friday. Shomer Shabbat comes from Deuteronomy, where Moses repeats the Ten Commandments.

A more liberal expression of honoring God's day of restZocher Shabbat (a "rememberer" of the Sabbath)is also legitimate, according to some progressive rabbinic authorities. This lesser-known term is derived from Exodus, where the Ten Commandments appear for the first time: "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." Zocher Shabbat is a "nice label" for Jews who practice Shabbat rituals that fit into their lifestyle, Binder says.

Stephanie Kaufman's style of observance would be considered Zocher Shabbat. She still turns on lights but doesn't answer the phone Friday night because "it takes away from the mood." On Saturday, she'll answer a ringing phone but tries not to make any calls. "It's kind of weird," she admits. "We make up our own rules. I guess we do what feels right."

Recently, Kaufman's husband, Michael, suggested that the family start walking the four miles to synagogue on Shabbat.

When the weather is nice.

When their three children get older.

"I just laughed," she recalls. "He thought it was kind of funny, too. But he's always striving for one more. I resist for a little bit, then say, 'Okay, let's try it.' But I don't think we'll be walking to synagogue. We would have to leave at 9 in the morning to get there at 10. We can barely get there at 10 now."

As with walking to synagogue, preparing for a weekly holiday observance can be time-consuming, especially if it involves such things as buying fresh flowers, visiting the kosher butcher, cooking a special meal, persuading your children to dress appropriately, and changing linens for overnight guests. But according to some women who guard or remember Shabbat, the freedom it bestows outweighs the prep work involved. Indeed, preparing for Shabbat can hold its own joy. "I know a professor who prepares the whole Shabbat meal, and that, for him, is Shabbat. He loves doing that," says Klagsbrun, the author.

The Shabbat habit is best adopted incrementally, expanding the ritual repertoire until a comfort zone is reached, practitioners say. Newcomers might start by eating Friday-night dinner in the dining room instead of the kitchen, even if they're only serving hoagies or Chinese takeout. After a few weeks, they might add blessings over the candles, wine, bread, and children. Making a donation to charity, attending services, spending time in a natural setting; or avoiding the mall, TV, and computers on one or more Saturdays a month are other ways of dipping your toe into Shabbat waters.

Doing something special to differentiate the seventh day from the six other days provides a rhythm to your week, focusing your attention on life's blessings on a regular basis. For some, that kind of focus provides a spiritual lift. But not everyone's Shabbat experiences are ethereal.

"I don't actually ponder, 'If I do this, I'll feel closer to God,' " Kaufman discloses. "I'm still exploring how I feel about it."

One thing she is sure of: "It makes us happy."

Robin K. Levinson is an award-winning journalist, author, and freelance writer and editor. She lives in Hamilton, N.J.


Shabbat Resources
If you donıt observe Shabbat and would like to try it, or you wish to heighten your current level of observance, here are some resources to set you on your way:

Books:

  • The Fourth Commandment: Remembering the Sabbath Day, by Francine Klagsbrun (Harmony Books, $24)
  • Shabbat (2nd Edition): The Family Guide to Preparing for and Celebrating the Sabbath, by Ron Wolfson (Jewish Lights, $19.95)
  • Gates of Shabbat: A Guide for Observing Shabbat, by Mark Dov Shapiro, ed. (Central Conference of American Rabbis, $12.95)
  • The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices: CLALıs Guide to Everyday and Holiday Rituals and Blessings, by Irwin Kula and Vanessa L. Ochs, eds. (Jewish Lights, $18.95)

Music: CDs

  • Friday Night Live, Craig Taubman ($15.00), www.craignco.com
  • Around Our Shabbat Table, Margie & Ilene ($15.98), www.jewishmusic.com
  • Celebrate Shabbat! Caron Dale and Adas Israel ($15.98), www.jewishmusic.com
  • I've Got That Shabbat Feeling! Sue Epstein ($15.95), www.soundswrite.com
  • Shabbat Shalom, Cindy Paley ($15.95), www.soundswrite.com

On the Web:

  • Judaism 101, www.jewfaq.org/shabbat.htm
  • Family Shabbat Table Talk, www.uahc.org/shabbat/
  • A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice (see Chapter 4), www.learn.jtsa.edu/topics/diduknow/jrpguide/
  • Jewish Travelerıs Resource Guide, www.shabat.co.il/main.htm
  • Shabbat electronic newsletter, www.aish.com/torahportion/shalomweekly/Nitzavim-Vayelech_5762.asp