It’s pretty refreshing to have a section on Shabbat.
The trendy concept of having a day of rest, a day to pause, have a digital detox and recharge your batteries. A new and exciting ritual to adopt; just like Marie Kondo’s decluttering extravaganza.
But imagine if you had been brought up with the tradition of Shabbat since birth.
Growing up in the south of Spain, this ritual was handed down to us as one hands over the crown jewels. Shabbat was our one day a week of reflection, spirituality and family time; just like my grandparent and great grandparents had observed, all the way up to the Spanish Inquisition.
As a child, preparations for Shabbat were not that dissimilar to the tale recounted on Fiddler on the Roof, the ‘tradition’ was alive and kicking, although we were less orthodox then Tevias family were.
As the sun began to set on a Friday afternoon, the telephones, television, radios and cooking apparatus were all turned off, a silence descended and the peace that emerged was tangible.
My father, dressed in his finest suit, whilst my mother stood patiently by the Shabbat candles, with all her daughters in tow (me included) awaiting the candle lighting and blessing ceremony. Ready to welcome Shabbat, the treasured guest of honour we had waited for all week.
Father would then return from prayers at the synagogue together with my uncles, cousins and those invited to partake in our meal. Loud voices were replaced by calmer tones as we emerged dressed in our best clothes; I adored my pretty Shabbat dress and matching shoes, bought specifically for this occasion.
Imagine having the family reunited weekly. Most people can barely manage it once a year; all that family under one room; but we not only managed it, but loved it.
Freshly baked challah (a loaf of delicious braided bread) warmed up on our hotplate, the smell wafting through the air is etched firmly in my memory. Interesting stories exchanged at the table related by the patriarch of the house, while the matriarch fussed over the chicken fricassee, and accompanying vegetable soup – the piece de resistance was the sumptuous dessert, homemade to perfection.
Growing up in the South of Spain, our community continues to thrive through this incredible connection to our creator. The day of rest was far more than just relaxing; it meant family connection, closeness, the partaking of food and more importantly a spiritual awakening.
This tradition has created a sense of belonging and served as a strong foundation for Jews to survive pogroms and persecution over the years. It is an element that has bonded us together through generations when we hit one wall of uncertainty after another, it built the seeds of resilience which grew into a ritual that has never had an expiry date.
This feeling of peace was so powerful that if it had been sold by the kilo, it would have sold out in the first hour. Truly nothing compares to it when you grow up with it positively as a child.
The challenge as I reached adulthood was how to recreate this incredible magic when moving abroad. Attempting to recreate this day with most of the components I had in my childhood missing. Unlike the contents of your luggage, the Shabbat connection cannot be packed in a suitcase to take from location to location as a single traveller.
Judaism is beautiful, but most of the laws, especially on the Shabbat are conducted within a community and more importantly as a family. So if the husband has left or passed away, there is a vacuum left behind. Who will say the blessings on Shabbat? If the wife is no longer there, who blesses the children? if there are no children, there is no one to bless.
An absence of a family member is felt tenfold, and a sense of lack develops because something feels incomplete. This is how key each family member is.
I felt it immediately when I got divorced.
Having daughters who would hear their school friends talking about their traditional Shabbat with daddy was immensely challenging. I felt we were different, incomplete and lacking somehow. I imagine men feel the same when their wife is no longer there.
So how did I redefine Shabbat as a divorced single person?
After years of attempting to fit into the Shabbat norm of perfectly formed families; one of my daughters could intuitively see how much I was struggling with fitting into our community. She came up with a simple but very brilliant question.
“What would make sabbath enjoyable for you as a divorcee?” She asked.
I thought about it for a while, and came up with simple actions like sitting peacefully in one of my favourite coffee shops writing an article, reading a book, attending a retreat, taking a walk in one of my favourite parks with my dog, meeting friends for drinks, or spending time with my daughters doing our favourite things.
Note that I didn’t mention going deep sea diving, shopping at the mall or travelling abroad. I only yearned for simple things that brought a sense of inner peace.
Isn’t this what having a day of rest means? A day to reconnect to our creator and to spiritually plug back into life.
It was this question that helped me to surrender to my status as a divorcee attempting to fit into a community composed of large families. It was like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole, and I kept pushing on to make it fit; but it never did. Part of my growth was surrendering to what is, rather than forcing what isn’t.
I let go of trying to reproduce the incredible experience I had during my childhood, as this was impossible.
That door was now closed, but there were others I could open and explore what could be possible with my current resources. I realised that I could start over and create the perfect day of rest with a soulful intention at the forefront of it.
It did not include going to synagogue and having a multitude of people over for a Shabbat meal, I felt guilty even contemplating that this was not what I wanted to be doing.
I asked God, what does he want from me?
The answer that came through my intuition was simple and similar to my parent’s philosophy;
‘Do what brings you joy.’
In my family, we were always taught to serve God with joy; so there was one component I could use when re-creating my Shabbat experience. The day no longer became a religious one for me, but a day I spend nurturing my soul and the relationships I care about. Components that bring me joy are slotted into this day.
It is unconventional based on what my birthright would require of me, but life isn’t about being conventional, it’s about finding yourself within all the external noise out there
As a mother, there is no greater inheritance I can leave my daughters than to role model authentic living; rather than to expect them to live through the mould set by others.
Adding laws and structures to Shabbat has allowed the Jewish people to survive for thousands of years of persecution, and I have tremendous respect for the commitment shown by those who against all odds continue to practice it through the letter of the law. But this is not the level of committment that i want to carry through.
My daughters now live in a different city and love travelling back home for Shabbat to light the candles together and partake in the sumptuous Friday night supper. When they’re abroad, they call me on Friday afternoon asking me to bless them before Shabbat commences.
These are such special moments and show that the Shabbat rituals that reconnect us continue to remain in our family.
There is no longer a sense of lack or incompleteness. It’s perfect just as it is and I have tremendous gratitude for being able to continue to welcome the Shabbat day into our lives each week, but on my terms.