Thursday, February 20, 2014

Let's Talk Shabbat: Now and Way Back When

A few years after I moved to Los Angeles, California in 1999, I started thinking about the numerous Orthodox Jews I saw walking on the sidewalks or crossing streets on Saturdays. Whenever I saw them, I was always doing the epitome of what they weren’t – driving in my car, listening to music on my radio. Seeing these Jews heading to and from their synagogues I was overcome with something closely resembling pity. To my na├»ve eyes they looked as if they were living under a heavy burden. How sad that they have to miss out (on fun) as life passes them by. How little I knew or understood. I had never been closely exposed to Orthodoxy up to that point. I couldn’t truly grasp what I was looking upon. I was uneducated and making an ignorantly uneducated assumption. What I didn't know then was that one must experience what it’s like on the inside of the Orthodox Jewish world to fairly judge it. It took me years to get myself on the inside to look out. And how humbling it was to see how wrong I’d been on those Saturdays. I realized in hindsight how haughty and judgmental I was to think that I was living it up all that time. Hardly! They were the ones living it up while I was filling my days with empty activities and letting life pass me by!

For the first 30 years of Saturdays in my life I usually slept in and indulged in well-deserved activities such as getting pedicures or facials, getting my hair cut and styled, meeting friends for lunch, going shopping, going to movies, doing laundry, cleaning, paying bills, and many, many times working either in my parents’ business when I lived at home in Pennsylvania or supervising an editing session for a TV show after I went into production in L.A. I thought that was living maximally to the best of my knowledge. But all this time later it feels like those were only superficial activities. Since I became religious I’ve spent Saturdays indulging my spiritual and mental self and resting my physical self; getting dressed up and taking my children to synagogue where we are excited to go and delve into Torah Judaism, socializing with our community, leisurely eating festive lunches with our family and friends, taking time to sit down and read books or peruse cookbooks and magazines, stopping all stressors and deadlines and focusing on my most cherished prizes in the world – my husband and children – where I’m dedicated to nurturing happy and healthy relationships. How many children and parents cannot hold a meaningful conversation? Perhaps they were never given enough time to exchange dialogue and appreciate each other’s intellect. How many children learn to disrespect their parents and talk back? On the contrary, I’ve seen how a child in this day and age can profoundly respect a parent’s or even a grandparent’s mind for having been around longer and earned more experience. I’ve seen how a parent can even profoundly respect a child’s mind. All due to those Shabbat conversations when no one is rushed and the world has stopped to give us this sacred space.  It almost boils down to the word "connection".  We're not connecting with material things.  We're connecting with other humans.  We're building and caring for our relationships.  We're connecting to people and, most especially, to G-d.

Shabbat doesn’t just show up and find us. We are charged with finding it. It’s not at the gas station when you’re filling up your car on a Saturday, nor is it at the hair salon or movie theater. It’s where you look when you make the effort to look for it.