I grew up in a home that was not shabbat observant. While we sometimes went to synagogue, we also went shopping, to the movies, and to Memorial Stadium. As a participant in NCSY, I had an idea of what it meant to be shomer shabbat, but I also had the notion that this kind of extremism was only for the “frummies.”
As a young adult, studying for a Master’s in Jewish Education at HUC, I began to question what it meant to work in Jewish education without actually observing one of the central mitzvot of Judaism. I ultimately dropped out of the program, went to a wonderful women’s yeshiva in NYC, and became significantly more observant for a number of years. I never identified as Orthodox or as a Ba’alat Teshuvah, but I did take halachah, and shabbat in particular, very seriously.
This worked for me on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, more or less. Observing shabbat didn’t feel like a sacrifice – I had meals to prepare, meals to attend, walks in the park, and a large group of peers all making the same kinds of choices. But once I left this community of observant but thoughtful, even progressive, Jews, I found that most other observant communities were decidedly uncomfortable for me for a myriad of reasons that I won’t delve into right now. And I realized that for better or worse, my commitment to halachah wasn’t based on faith, or a sense of being commanded to observe mitzvot, but based on wanting to belong to a community of like-minded Jews. Once I lost that community, I couldn’t really sustain much of my shabbat observance . Then I fell in love and married and non-Jew, and it became just that much more difficult.
Now that I have a daughter in day school, and still work as a Jewish educator, I’m realizing I need to re-think, once again, my approach to shabbat. What does it mean to light candles, have shabbat dinner, go to shul now and then, but otherwise treat shabbat like any other day? On the other hand, what does it mean to try to insist on a strict observance of shabbat when there are almost no shomer shabbat families in our town, and when my husband isn’t interested in going along for the ride (or should I say, the walk….)
So, I’m taking slow steps. This week, I quietly decided to turn off the computer for all of shabbat. As someone who spends way too much time on my laptop, this felt big, and I kept the decision private until Saturday night, when Ella heard me telling a friend at a havdallah potluck about my experiment.
Tonight, in the bath, Ella announced, entirely of her own accord, “I think I’d like to stop watching tv on shabbat.” I told her I thought it was a great idea. I’ll remind her on Friday, although I won’t insist. Whether she follows through or not, it was a great reminder to me that even small changes on shabbat, which used to seem kind of ridiculous to me (either you keep shabbat or you don’t, right?) really matter now that I’m a parent. One of my challenges is to make sure we add to the do’s and not just the dont’s – that we find more families to celebrate with, and more ways to celebrate shabbat – as we consider eliminating various kinds of work.