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Shabbat Morning

 

Shabbat is the weekly Jewish holiday of rest. It starts at sundown on Friday and ends after sundown on Saturday. The theoretical, biblical, reason for a day of rest is, of course, that God created the world in six days and therefore took a well-earned break on day seven. But really we all need a day of rest each week, even if we didn’t create a whole world by ourselves. (I’m pretty sure I need more than one day of rest in seven, but this isn’t the time to quibble).

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Cricket believes in resting seven days out of seven.

I grew up going to synagogue every Saturday morning, first for junior congregation with the other kids, and later to the adult services, which lasted two and a half hours and ended with Slivovitz (plum brandy) and gefilte fish. But it’s been a long time since I went to synagogue regularly on Saturday mornings. Instead, I go on Friday nights, because my synagogue is more of a Friday night kind of place. We only have Saturday morning services when there’s a Bar or Bat Mitzvah to celebrate, or a holiday that falls on Shabbat. So, for a long time now, I’ve treated Saturday like, well, any other day. A day to do chores, make appointments, get my work done, etc. I took the time out for Friday night services as my weekly celebration of Shabbat and felt like that was enough.

I didn’t realize that I was really missing those Saturday mornings until I started to teach Synagogue school on Saturday mornings at my synagogue and was able to sit in on the children’s service. We all sat together in the first few rows in the sanctuary, with the Rabbi sitting right in front of us and leading us through the short service in a very relaxed, informal sort of way. When we read the morning blessings, the Rabbi asked everyone to share a recent accomplishment, or an exciting event coming up, or a difficult problem we needed support with, and the kids raised their hands. They shared about their new braces, and trips to Disneyworld, or New Jersey, and injured wrists, and newborn siblings. I didn’t have the nerve to speak up, but their openness inspired me. It was prayer as a chance to check in with our community and ourselves, and take a deep breath (or ten) and feel the natural holiness that we bring with us into the room.

And then we drank grape juice and tore through Challahs (really, these kids can do some real damage to a very large loaf of bread), and went to class. The mood of Saturday morning class is so different from the after-school rowdiness of synagogue school earlier in the week. We can meander through a discussion and hear from everyone more fully, and share our outside interests in music and Lego and animals and bring them into the discussion of the Torah lesson for the day, knitting together the ordinary and the holy.

Shabbat was hard for me growing up, because Shabbat was one of the battlegrounds my father chose to fight over. He made us walk six miles to the orthodox synagogue, and he stopped us from watching television or doing homework. The day became a wasteland, with nothing to do and nowhere to go, because we didn’t live in a Jewish community with other people in the same situation. And it wasn’t restful at all. It didn’t feel holy or sacred to replace the toilet paper in the bathroom with tissues, just to avoid ripping paper on Shabbat, or to cover the light switches with plastic to keep from turning the lights on and off; it felt more like prison.

For years now, I’ve had therapy on Saturday mornings – either group or individual – and I accepted that I couldn’t go to Saturday morning services at a synagogue, because I knew that therapy was more important. But I realized that I liked this Shabbat School version of Saturday morning prayers. I liked that it didn’t take hours, and we didn’t have to dress up, and we did get to talk, a lot, about our actual lives. This past week the cantor ran the children’s service, and we all sat in a circle-like clump on the floor to sing along with him and his guitar, and then to breathe together, and then dance together, and I thought, yeah, I could do this every week. If only my dogs could be invited.

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“I wanna go!”

Cricket and Ellie know all about rest and holy time, and they don’t need as many memory aides as humans do to help them get to that peaceful, connected place. They just need the birds singing to them in the morning, and the air filled with smells from near and far, and a few chicken treats and cuddles. Though I really would love to see Ellie dancing along with the kids at Shabbat school, and she would love to share their Challah. Cricket would probably steal the whole challah and hide it under the ark, where only she and the rabbi could find it. But they’d probably enjoy that too, hunkering down in the sanctuary to share bread.

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“Did you say Challah?!”

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“I could eat.”

What’s a community for, really, if not to take time out to share good food, and sing, and maybe even dance?

 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

 

 

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

50 responses »

  1. “knitting together the ordinary and the holy” — I love your insights, Rachel! I have gotten to a place where I find the regular Saturday morning service exhausting. It hadn’t occurred to me that the childrens’ service might be just the ticket. Thank you!

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  2. When I taught Sunday School, many years ago, I used to bring in some Jewish traditions to help the kids feel a connection to a larger world and bring life to the stories we read. One of the most touching things I read preparing for this was a description of the Sabbath not as a time of rest, but as a time to celebrate the world as complete and beautiful. A time to focus on what is good and right, not what remains to be done. I’m wording this badly, but however it was worded exactly it changed my view of the Sabbath, and made me realize that we all need it, even if we don’t have the whole 24 hours to give it.

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  3. Those Saturday morning classes sound brilliant!

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  4. “…trips to Disneyland or New Jersey…” Now there’s an interesting equivalency.

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  5. I’m sure the kids would love to meet your dogs and the Saturday morning services sound so friendly and open.

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  6. Such a wonderful experience and your words have really brought it to life. I felt like I was there too.

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  7. Some of those old ideas are a bit extreme, but I suppose the older generation worries about letting them go in case everything turns to chaos. Your dogs are SO cute!!

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  8. This is such s great and well-told story, Rachel. Loved to read it. And so good to know my dog is not the only one with serious challah addiction and challah sneaking skills 🙂

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  9. An altogether lovely post. Thanks for sharing.

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  10. Rachel, you should definitely propose allowing the kids (and you) to bring their pets with them on Shabbat morning. This could be therapeutic for all involved, including the pets. How better to raise the ordinary to the level of the holy? Banning this aspect of life from the synagogue just seems silly and shortsighted.

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  11. I love how your dogs are always part of your stories. Thanks for sharing!

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  12. Love your posts Rachel. They make my Sunday. Hugs and treat by proxy to Cricket and Ellie.

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  13. Your description of Saturday morning synagogue sounds like my father’s description of his Sunday mornings as a child in a pentecostal church. It amazes me how similar and how different each religion actually is.

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  14. I have learned a lot about the Jewish faith from reading your blog, Rachel Although I find some of the rules surrounding that faith to be restrictive and archaic, it has given you and others a sense of belonging that is missing from the lives of so many of us in this modern world.
    Best wishes, Pete..

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  15. I’m a church lady who celebrates a shabbat of a sort. From Friday at dinner until Sunday a.m. I try not to do worky work. I turn off my computer, don’t do cleaning other than daily tidying, attend church on Saturday night and generally relax with my family. It’s a day of blessing and refreshing. I’m glad you are free now to enjoy that, too!! 🙂

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  16. Slivovitz! I was served home made slivovitz at a home in Bulgaria once, along with smoked fish and white cheese!

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  17. I’m coming to really love shabbat mornings… except I still wish I could sleep in indefinitely instead of getting up for synagogue. Oh well. You can’t have everything! Ha!

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  18. Another great post. Sadly I have not attended services in quite a long time. I love the meaningul one you are able to attend. My personal feeling is that G-d is everywhere but joing with others is very meaningful.

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  19. I love the way God snuck up on you like this, giving you a chance to heal your traumatic sense of Sabbath and giving you joy instead.

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  20. I really enjoyed reading this. My experiences were entirely different having been raised as a Catholic and attending Catholic school. Perhaps, though, while the experiences were different, the senses and perspectives were the same because I can relate to the emotional shadows that lingered for a long time. Thank you for this!

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  21. I really enjoyed your wonderful experiences of life !!! 💙

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  22. Sounds like an interesting story, Rachel. I’ll check it out.

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