As a Jew by choice, I wanted to create my own traditions and navigate how to lead a meaningful Jewish life as a Latina born in Lima, Peru, living in the US. My compass in this journey has been my family. Hadassah gave me the roadmap to build a legacy which I can be proud of. Shabbat has given me the light to illuminate the path to peace and joy.
Ted and I were married in West Orange, NJ at Temple B’nai Shalom. I owe a debt of gratitude to Rabbi Stanley Asekoff, who married us, for my early love of Shabbat. He once wisely shared, “Torah, Jewish laws, and services are all opportunities for you to be closer to God.”
Nothing connects me more to Judaism than Shabbat. I’ve had the wonderful experience of observing this time-honored ritual in many cities around the world, from Lima to Jerusalem. The surroundings may have been different each time, but lighting the candles, saying the prayers, and ‘letting go’ into beautiful serenity always felt the same — special. Saying Kaddish for my in-laws Edythe, Bernard, and Andrea Johnson will always be one of my most heartfelt spiritual experiences.
My appreciation for the privilege of celebrating Shabbat was further deepened after visiting Auschwitz and being made acutely aware of the loss of my husband’s relatives during the holocaust.
Over the years, my love for Shabbat grew from watching my kids take turns at being Ima and Abba at their Friday morning pre-school classes…to offering the ‘blessing of the children’ during Shabbat, whether our children were present or not…to participating in Havdalah services with my Hadassah sisters.
As I raised my kids and juggled busy careers in South Florida, my Shabbat traditions took on different forms. I was surrounded by family and a large Jewish community. Life was hectic shuttling kids from school to activities.
The days seem to fly by for us and our friends. As a result, we came up with a practical and fun way to recognize Shabbat and invite all our loved ones to enjoy it with us. We opened our home with a cocktail reception in celebration of Shabbat each week. Our friends and family knew that they were welcome to stop by our home for Shabbat observance, candle lighting, appetizers, and martinis. All you had to do was bring your favorite appetizer. More than once, we ended up dancing salsa by the pool. We called it Shabbatini!
As our kids approached their teen years, we made a move to North Carolina after falling in love with the Blue Ridge Mountains. Our Charlotte Jewish community was thriving, creating a fulfilling Jewish life centered around Shalom Park. Shalom Park offers a JCC, several congregations, and a plethora of organizations like Hebrew High, BBYO, The Jewish Film Festival, Jewish Family Services, day schools, and so much more. Our entire family got involved in the community. I served proudly as the President of the Hadassah Charlotte Chapter. Ted joined the Jewish Film Festival leadership and our kids — Emily and Danny — were involved with BBYO, and Emily became chapter president.
At Emily and Danny’s neighborhood schools, however, Jews were rare. Emily and Danny were often explaining Judaism and on more than one occasion they were the first Jewish child a faculty member or student had ever met. This meant that they had to be confident and educated in their Judaism. On his own, Danny decided to wear a kippah to school on Fridays and at special occasions like middle school graduation. Danny explained, “Wearing a yarmulke on Fridays shows everyone at school who I am. No one will ask me which church I belong to today.”
To further connect with our neighbors, we started what we called Jewish for a Day. Our kids were encouraged to invite a non-Jewish school friend or family to join us for Shabbat dinner. During our celebration, our kids took turns explaining the meaning of Shabbat.
Now as an empty nester, my passion for Shabbat continues, albeit in different ways. When Emily recently moved into her apartment in Washington, DC, two blocks away from the legendary Sixth & I congregation, it gave me profound joy to gift my daughter her own set of candle sticks and elaborate Shabbat candles so she can create her own Shabbat traditions. Danny continues to put his imprint in the Carolinas. He recently became the first Jewish president of Delta Chai fraternity at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. Of course, he wore his kippah in the official picture!
My Jewish journey will continue but it will always be illuminated by the light of Shabbat candles.