I was the first person in my family to be born in America. My parents and older sister and brother moved from Israel to Brentwood, California just nine months before I was born. My father was working on a fellowship at UCLA as a pediatric research physician, and my mother quickly found a way to transfer her career as a criminologist to work in the probation system in Los Angeles. My parents, although they didn’t speak the best English, were committed to maintaining a perfect balance for their children: instilling Judaic religion while celebrating the culture of Israel in our everyday life. They were first generation Holocaust survivors born in Palestine, and a commitment to preserving the practices of Israel was a top priority. In my eyes there are two prominent traits that come out of being Israeli: religion, and a passion for celebrating the unique culture of Israel. You will find Israelis who celebrate the culture through spirituality and religion, some that just embrace religion and some that find the balance in both.
My mother was a true Zionist. She lived and breathed her homeland. And while she was not religious, she believed in the practices and rituals of Shabbat so we spent our Friday nights at temple each week. My temple became my community. My father was also a Zionist, but he was a conservative practicing Jew. When they divorced, I had to quickly adapt to his kosher lifestyle when I was in his presence and refine my cheeseburger orders to meat only.
Shabbat, for our family, was a weekly ritual in both households. It was the one time in the week where the family gathered to take a pause from life, to live in the moment, to revel in each other, to take just a few moments of collective silence while my father led the family in simple prayers to thank God for our food, our abundance and our family, and to recognize our loved ones that are no longer with us. This was our time to reflect on the week and to share with each other out loud what we learned, and to, as a family, recognize the blessing of being alive and together in life for yet another week.
I grew up in a melting pot, and have embraced people from all over the world — Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and Jews — and I realize that no matter what religion they are, all religions practice their own version of Shabbat: a time to reflect, to recharge and reset and prepare for another week of life. God created the world in seven days for a reason, and one of those days was for resting. The mechanics of the human body are designed to rest every few days. It is so critical to find that time to reflect and relax so that we can be even more abundant in each week ahead. The practices of Shabbat: prayer, connecting with loved ones without the use of electronics, finding authentic human moments in the 24 hour period of Shabbat, from sundown to the sunset of the following day, let you truly live in the moment and relax without interruption.
As I have entered adulthood and parenthood (I now have a 15-year-old daughter), I took on the same practices of Shabbat with her. As the matriarch of my two-person household, I realize I have become a true Zionist since my daughter’s birth. Finding a spiritual connection to my homeland is a part of my DNA, and celebrating Shabbat is my weekly time to do just that. I have made it a practice to go to temple with her not so much to focus on the religion but to embrace the spirituality and connection of the congregation, all of us seeking the same thing, to disconnect from daily life and to focus on community and embrace the blessing of being alive. I call her to the kitchen each Friday to light candles, even if we have gone out to dinner. It’s our moment as mother and daughter to connect on our blessings and to reflect on our week and to pay homage by lighting a candle to the family we no longer have with us. I attend Shabbat dinners as often as I can, because being surrounded with a community of people all living in the moment, in gratitude and reflection, is so spiritually filling. I also make it a point to leave my phone in another room, not to look at it when I wake up on Shabbat. I cook a big breakfast each morning of Shabbat, purposely making Israeli cuisine like Shakshuka to connect with my culture without interruption.
Here is what I can tell you: The practices of Shabbat are brilliant and applicable to anyone, from any religious belief system. The end result, if applied, will put you in a position to truly THRIVE in the week ahead.