Observing shabbat – it’s all good

sababaMy level of religious observance has gone through many phases. I was raised in a minimally observant, but highly Jewishly identified, home. I went to Orthodox day school, Labor Zionist sleepover camp, and a Conservative synagogue, followed by a mostly non-Jewish all girls prep school, so I suppose it’s no surprise that it took me a while to find my own path.

As I’ve blogged about before, for a period of several years, while I lived in New York City, I was strictly shomeret shabbat. I didn’t use electricity, didn’t cook, didn’t write, didn’t sort (really!)….let’s just say, there were a lot of “didn’ts”. But there were also a lot of wonderful “dids.” I did have two or three long, wonderful shabbat meals with friends each week, I did learn a lot of Torah, and I did feel as if I were floating above space and time for a 25 hour period.
Several moves, one or two crises of faith, and a marriage to a non-Jewish husband later, I’m no longer so strictly observant. But that doesn’t mean that shabbat isn’t a terribly important part of our lives. I still have some don’ts – I don’t shop, and I don’t use my computer (or should I say I’m trying really, really, hard to not use my computer and if shabbat didn’t end so late on Saturday these days I think I would be very successful.) However, I don’t have as many dos, or at least not as many compelling dos. We do bake challah, we do have a special family dinner with all the traditional blessings, and we do often go to the kiddush lunch at our shul on Saturday afternoon. But, no longer part of a community of Jews hosting three long, wonderful meals, I’ve been looking for other shabbat activities that my family will enjoy and are true to our definition of shabbat as a special day of thanks and rest. 
This past Friday, just about an hour before we were going to leave for a shabbat potluck dinner, I saw a post on Facebook that the Jewish music group Sababa was leading a service a few towns away. While we almost never go to Friday night services (or Saturday services, for that matter. Remember? We’re homeshuling….) I piled the girls in the car and drove down to someone else’s shul, for an entirely different kind of shul experience.
I must admit, that I didn’t expect to like Sababa. I’m really not fond of most contemporary Jewish music (check out this post if you want to see me at my snarkiest.) I’m much more likely to listen to Townes Van Zandt singing about dying prostitutes than cheerful Jews, or Christians for that matter, crooning about loving God. These songs tend to make me feel kind of, well, embarrassed. (I don’t have the same reaction to old gospel tunes, but that’s a topic for another post.)
But, I totally made the right choice driving down to Sababa’s service. The experience was just short of exhilarating. Not only were they really good musicians, but the music was woven almost seamlessly into the service. Rather than performing, they invited everyone to join in, and more importantly they made everyone want to join in. (Did I mention that’s another thing I  find embarrassing? When musicians try to get you to sing along, but no one wants to.) I wouldn’t want every Shabbat service to be like this, but I love showing my daughters that services can be like this.
So, now I’m embarrassing myself, and certainly my daughters, all over town, because I can’t stop singing the title track of Sababa’s new cd “It’s All Good.” I’ll admit, I still can’t quite handle all the lyrics – I prefer my liturgical music in Hebrew which I think preserves the complexity of statements of faith rather than turning them into twee rhyming slogans (and, of course, allows me to flat out ignore the meaning if I want.)  But I love hearing my kids sing along with these songs. And they are definitely songs that make them want to sing along. Who could complain about that?
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c. windsor

posted May 24, 2010 at 12:12 pm

where is your sense of modesty? Religious observance is a private matter, between you and G-d. Boasting about it in public- a la Oprah-
is a prefect example of the “piety for show” behavior denounced by Jesus in the Gospels.

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posted May 24, 2010 at 1:34 pm

I’ve been struggling with the fact that Shabbat ends up being one of the MOST work-intensive days of the week, because I have to spend it taking care of my 3 1/2 year old son. I remember Shabbat from my pre-child days fondly, as time to rest, spend time alone or maybe with my husband, and have some nice get-togethers with friends. But now it’s all “mama, do this! mama, do that!”
I think it’s just the combination of an INTJ (introverted etc.) mom, demanding personality toddler, and chronically ill husband. But seriously, shouldn’t we all get a Shabbos baby-sitter as soon as we become a Jewish mother?

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Minnesota Mamaleh

posted May 24, 2010 at 3:34 pm

amy, i love this post! i saw your fb sababa status and was, for sure, curious what that was all about! shabbat *is* all about making it a separate, special time. i love that you’re open to how that might look or err– sound! :)

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posted May 24, 2010 at 4:30 pm

But do you roll on shabbos?

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Jennifer in MamaLand

posted May 25, 2010 at 12:41 am

To c windsor, who wrote: “where is your sense of modesty? Religious observance is a private matter, between you and G-d. etc.”
She’s not BOASTING, she’s writing, musing, bouncing various thoughts on observance. The private stuff stays private, but since these are issues we all grapple with, one could say the blog is here to TEACH as well as share one mother’s perspective. I bet even ol’ JC could get behind the idea of teaching… not that, as Jews, we’re asking him!
Anyway, I actually came here to mention the idea of Hebrew lyrics that let us “flat out ignore the meaning if I want.” I agree wholeheartedly, and, in fact, for most of the time that there have been Jews, Hebrew has NOT been the language we spoke on an everyday basis.
Meaning, I believe, that part of the value of the language is meditative, not literal: tuning it out, or rather, tuning “beyond” it, allows our own meanings and our personal connection with Hashem, to flourish instead.
Just so you know – so everybody knows – it’s great to understand Hebrew, but even if you do understand, it’s okay not to follow word by word. :-)))

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