Shabbat in the Modern World

A while ago now, I saw this post on the Velveteen Rabbi’s blog, titled Shabbat in the Modern World. My heart lept into my throat when I saw the blog title pop up on my Google Reader. How to observe Shabbat in the Modern World is a not-uncommon topic amongst my friends.

Velveteen Rabbi was not writing about the challenge of observing Shabbat in a modern world. Instead, she was writing about the gift of being able to celebrate Shabbat with her parents utilizing modern technology, specifically Sykpe. Her words were really touching, but not was I was expecting based on my own baggage with the topic.

So now, here I am, writing about the challenge of observing Shabbat in the modern world. For one, I live in a town that isn’t friendly to cyclists or walkers. In short, I have to drive everywhere. The only synagogue in town is several miles and a semi-major highway away from where I live, so I’m absolutely not walking to shul. Annnnnnnd … I work in a synagogue Sunday-Thursday. So it usually feels like work, not Shabbat to go back to shul on Friday night or Saturday morning for services. I could serve a traditional Shabbos dinner, but I always forget to bake challah until the absolute last minute (and, unfortunately, bread isn’t really something you can make at the last minute).

I do feel like, despite all of my excuses, I still have a desire to observe the Sabbath in some capacity, so I should do something. I should start somewhere. But where?!

For me, I touched on the answer of where I should start when I was reading 30 Ways to Make Yourself Happier This Shabbat on Kveller. I thought it was a good list full of good places to start. But 3 days later, only one of the suggestions comes to mind when I think of the article and the list.

#2 – Light candles on Friday night.

It just clicked in my head this morning. For me, this is the perfect, logical place to start. Just light the candles. Usher in the Sabbath. Jews light the candles at the beginning of Shabbat. In other words, it forces me to STOP. It forces me to stop and acknowledge that it is, in fact, Shabbat! No longer will my head hit the pillow with regret as I acknowledge that I “forgot” to do anything to observe Shabbat. Once I’ve lit the candles, they are lit and I can’t go anywhere. My mother taught me better than to leave the house with a candle burning. And once I’m home with my family, candles lit, then I have the chance to make the most of the Sabbath. I still don’t think that observing Shabbat in the Modern world is intuitive or easy. But now I know where I want to start.


Rubbernecking or Tragedy Fatigue

Many years ago as a young college student I was kvetching with a professor about rubberneckers. If you’re not familiar with the concept, rubbernecking is the act of stopping – in the middle of rush hour traffic – to look at a nearby accident. Rubbernecking is responsible for many traffic jams. My point to this professor was that rubbernecking was an example of the worst part of our human nature, the base parts of our nature, a part of our nature that causes draws up toward the most macabre moment of other people’s lives. The professor made the point that, instead, rubbernecking actually proves our humanity. In her mind rubbernecking signified our inability to witness other people’s tragedies and simply look away. How could a decent person look at an accident and not want to know more, not want to look further?

I have been contemplating her words for the better part of a decade. I have had many an opportunity, sitting in a traffic jam caused by rubbernecking, to debate the source and value of our obsession with other people’s tragedies.

It was this idea – that our humanity calls us to witness and invest ourselves in other people’s tragedies – that spring to mind when I read this article honestly about Amanda Berry. I kept thinking about it until my husband turned to me last night and asked, with some sadness and tragedy-fatigue in his face, “Is this story going to be with us forever. Are we going to be talking about these girls forever?”

And by that time, I had my answer: Probably. Elizabeth Smart’s novel won’t be released for months and yet I’m already seeing article after article discussing it. Jaycee Dugard’s story has been referenced again and again in articles about the 3 Cleveland abductees. I would guess that the stories of the Cleveland women will be on our tongues for a long while.

So what is the implication of what Emily Bazelon calls “our morbid fascination”? And in the context of this blog, what does is mean for us as Jews? I have worked in many office environments and I can say with absolute certainty that the synagogue office takes the cake with regards to involvement in each other’s personal lives. News, whether it be good or bad, rides a fast horse around our small Jewish community. I suspect this does not make us unique amongst synagogues or even religious institutions as a whole. But still, it begs the question, what is the implication of this for our Jewish community? 

I see the ugly side with some frequency, when sharing becomes over-sharing and over-sharing becomes gossip. But mostly, I would like to believe my professor, that it’s the best of our nature that calls us to not simply witness each other’s tragedies, but to dwell within these difficult times. I suppose my opinion hinges on what follows. It is perhaps just as easy to see something horrible and to either tap the breaks to get a better look OR to press on the accelerator and speed away. The hard work comes later when we have to really be there for each other. It is, I think, how we help each other pick up the pieces following a tragedy that says the most about our humanity.

Lag B’Omer

Lag B’Omer is the 33rd day of the Omer, or the counting of 49 days between Passover and Shavuot. Lag B’Omer is a happy day of celebration on which Jewish people spend time outside- a Jewish “field day” with bonfires and archery.

Since Lag B’Omer fell on a Sunday this year, our Rabbi suggested that the Sunday School celebrate the holiday together. When it came up at the Education Committee meeting, we all stared at each other, confused as to how to proceed. Most of us at the table had never heard of Lag B’Omer, much less celebrated it. And a bonfire? How are we going to make that happen? Bows and arrows? Whaaaaaaaa?!

My heart yearns for the images I see on Pinterest of huge bonfires and epic field day games. However, in our small community, we have to think a little more creatively. So tonight we will be gathering around 3 fire pits, lent to us for the evening by Education Committee members. We’re going to roast marshmallows, play games (sadly, no archery), and just enjoy each others’ company. I will be making adorable Lag B’Omer cupcakes as seen on Pinterest. It should be a wonderful celebration. I really respect that our members provide the children in our community with a diverse and thorough Jewish experience despite our small size and isolation.

The Zionist interpretation of Lag B’omer celebrates the fighting Jewish spirit. You can’t tell me that our little community doesn’t have fighting Jewish spirit to spare 🙂

Pictures of cupcakes to come!

In which I adore Sarah Bessey

If you were to take a look at my (soon-to-be defunct, sob!) Google Reader, you would see that I am an avid follower of Kveller, The Sisterhood,  and the Velveteen Rabbi. However, I also closely follow the blogs of Rachel Held Evans, Sarah Bessey, and Glennon Doyle Melton. A quick scan of their blogs would tell you that these three women are Christians. They write about faith and spirituality. And while I may not see my own faith reflected in every single blog post, I adore them all. They are wonderful writers, women, and Christians. And I have been reading their blogs longer than I have been reading the women of Kveller. In fact, it was through Rachel Held Evan’s blog that I first found the Velveteen Rabbi.

It might initially seem strange or even problematic for a Jewish woman to find so much comfort in the writings of Christians. I tend to keep my love of these women and their excellent writing to myself. However, when I read this post by Sarah Bessey, I thought it was time to share my love of Sarah Bessey with you all.

Sarah writes about the evolution of her writing and says,

“The very nature of arguments require simplification. When we are arguing, we go to our base lines. We turn people into props, interactions to proving grounds, theology into theories, because we have a point to prove … These are my neighbours. These are my co-workers. I loved them. And when I loved them, I didn’t want to use them as props anymore.”

As a Jew in the South, I have been evangelized to more times than I can count. And if there is one thing that I could say to the (mostly) well-meaning evangelists, it would be this: I am not a prop, please don’t talk to me as if I am. Many of my dearest friends are Christians. We have had discussions – and even arguments – about faith (more discussions than arguments). I can discuss Judaism and faith until I am blue in the face. I have nothing against a discussion. I don’t even have anything against an argument about religion, faith, G-d, you name it! What bothers me is when I am a prop in the conversation.

And it was a Christian writer who gave me the words to make that distinction. And that is – among other reasons – why I am a thankful and loyal reader of Sarah Bessey’s blog.

Tikkun Olam Tuesday: Interfaith Cooperation

Let me preface this by saying that I have nothing against Interfaith gatherings, in theory. I am a little shy of these events, in practice, because I am so used to being the “token-Jew” at what is actual an Ecumenical event.

So that is why I might have rolled my eyes when I read the title of this article. But give me some credit, I read the article despite my hesitation. And I actually cheered at my desk when I got to the end of this article from the HuffPo, 3 Reasons Interfaith Efforts Matter More Than Ever. Again, I have no problem with the idea of an Interfaith memorial service. However, I do not see the desired long-term gains being accomplished by making a perfunctory gesture toward the inclusion of members of minority groups.

Eboo Patel hits the nail on the head when he writes:

“An interfaith prayer service is only one place to see multiple traditions coming together to heal a community. Imagine how much interfaith cooperation there was in the operating rooms of Boston hospitals last week, where medical professionals of all faiths were working together to save lives and limbs.


These times require all of us to be interfaith leaders, to signal clearly that the worst elements of every tradition represent nobody. The murderers of all communities belong only to one community: the community of murderers. We have to expand our knowledge base of the various contributions diverse communities make to our nation and world, to bring into mutually enriching discussion not just people from different backgrounds but diverse identities within individuals.”

That is not to say that, despite my cynicism, we can’t gain some ground by coming together for an Interfaith memorial service. However, I think that Interfaith cooperation that happens unintentionally, outside of a religious service and out of the context of a national tragedy, can do more to foster harmony and fight discrimination than we credit.