Shabbes, Shabbes, Shabbes.

So you know that phrase that says Moshiach will come when all Jews keep Shabbat twice (or, according to some traditions, thrice) in a row?

Yeah. I’m pretty sure I’m the one keeping Moschiach from coming.

I am not shomer Shabbat. I never have been, and I don’t think I ever will be. I haven’t been shomer Shabbat in the past because I grew up as a non-Jew doing non-Shabbat-y things on Shabbat. I’m pretty sure Saturday morning cartoons are quintessentially American like apple pie and Twinkies.

I’m not shomer Shabbat because I do not currently live in my own place. I can’t very well ask my parents to please forget that very important game on Saturday.

I will probably not be shomer Shabbat in the future because The Boy will, G-d willing, be the co-occupant of my future abode and he’s more of a wine, candles…and movie kind of Shabbat guy.

It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s that I’m lazy. I admit it. I don’t live in a Jewish area (anyone wonder why Orthodoxy’s going strong? This, more than any other thing, is it, IMNSHO.). I don’t have a Jewish group of people around me 24/7. No one close by for Shabbat or Yom Tov. Getting to shul is an ordeal. Reminding everyone to please not touch the light switches (scotch tape is your friend?) and even if you think this is stupid, it’s not to me, so please, for the love of all that is Holy, just do me this favor for 25 hours.

So.

Here I was. Browsing the list of Birthright Trip Organizers back in September.

Israel Free Spirit: “Shabbat in Jerusalem.”

Wowza. I wonder what it’s like to hear the Shabbat siren.

It may or may not have been the primary decision-factor.

Fast forward a few months and I’m actually IN Eretz Israel. While everyone else was clapping when the plane landed, I was busy saying my Shecheyanu. Not every day that you get to *BE* in Israel.

We are up in the Golan Heights for a few days (which I will talk about later). Then we drove to Tel Aviv. I met The Boy’s Tel Aviv-ian cousin in a bar for a few hours. I slept for four hours. I get on the bus. I am taken to Israel’s Hall of Independence. I am blown away.

I am shuffled to the bus again. Matisyahu’s Jerusalem comes on the speakers.

We are ascending to Jerusalem. It takes 45 minutes. I ask the Rabbi when Shabbat starts. It is already 10:45 after all. “Oh, 40 minutes before. Jerusalem has this special custom.” (The things you learn! I thought it was 18 minutes everywhere!) That’s great rabbi. I’m wondering what the 40 minutes means for TODAY. “Oh. Well it is… what that clock says.”

There is a clock as you enter the city limits. It says the time Shabbat starts and ends. This is mind blowing.

We are dropped off at Marzipan Bakery in the Shuk. I am immediately hungry at the sight of delicious challah. You can get it from the size of your fist to the size of your leg. No joke.

They have the world’s best rugelach. No, trust me on this. You may make great ones that are gone fifteen minutes after coming out of the oven. Your Bubbe may have won countless awards and be in some cookbooks. But these are the world’s best. I didn’t believe the hype. I was a skeptic. I was proven wrong. The chocolate and cinnamon come out on sheets as big as a kitchen table lined with parchment paper and just enough oil to prevent sticking. They are good even days later, but of course are best eaten right out of the steaming bag.

I then prowl the Shuk for two hours. Turkish baklava. Kosher butchers galore. Freshly-squeezed pomegranate juice. Judaica stands so I can find my 10 shekalim “Secret Santa” gift. (Yes, my Aish/OU sponsored Birthright trip did in fact include a Secret Santa gift that definitely made me give them the raised eyebrow.) I bought a really nice “poh” dreidle for myself, and a 10 shekalim one for my Secret Santa partner. And more importantly, the pulsating urgency of Shabbat. It was everywhere in this crowded place.

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Then on the bus to our hotel in Bayit Vagan. Two hours to don religious attire. Apparently some of the female participants needed clarification on what an appropriate skirt was. The kippah-less men are presented with presents.

We are transported to Jaffa Gate. We walk briefly through the Armenian Quarter before hurrying through the Jewish quarter to the Aish HaTorah center. The location is… enough to take your breath away. There’s no other way of describing the multi-tiered building perched on the courtyard overlooking the Kotel.

We listen to a pre-Shabbat concert from a rabbi that studied at UCSB. His personality leads me to believe he would still fit in well with the student body of his alma mater. He also had the audience’s—all Aish/OU Birthright groups, plus a few of Aish’s own programs—men singing “Shabbat shalom, Shabbat, shabbat,” in a deep bass-y voice while the women sang, “Shabbes, Shabbes, Shabbes” in a more alto/soprano. It was annoyingly catchy and stuck with us as a motto for the remaining five days of the trip.

They took the men up to the roof top while our group “mom” brought the women to light candles. We were running short on time, so we quickly laid out 22 sets of candles. She tried to set the kavana for the blessing by describing why this is our mitzvah, what it represents spiritually and symbolically. I strike my match and the tears flow. I am not even one year’s old Jewishly speaking. I am here in Jerusalem, watching the plaza fill with soldiers and Chassids and Dati and Chiloni, in Israel, because someone thought I was worthy enough to stand at the wall that we have prayed toward and for. For hundreds and hundreds of years. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more Jewish, more connected. It was spiritually overwhelming to consider the gravity of hundreds of Jews celebrating Shabbat at the wall.

We light and walk to the wall, pushing gently forward. I appreciate that I tower over most women when I deliver the prayers I carried for my mom, my best friend, my best friend’s mom, and myself. I work them into the nooks.
I back away, to the flag pole, and just watch. The energy. The people. I let it sink in.

We walk to our dinner, uphill, in the cold, for an hour. Challah never tasted so good. Our rabbi asks each of us to offer a blessing for the group. I am the last.

“I’ve seen the group dynamic shift three times already on this trip: at the kibbutz, in Sfat, and tonight. One of my favorite Spanish sayings is ‘Y tiene uno que pegarse fuego a si mismo para poder alumbrar a los demas.’ It means one has to set one’s self on fire first, in order to be able to give light to, to illuminate, others. My wish for you all is that this trip sets your soul on fire.”

We walk uphill for two hours to our hotel. People no longer see the joy in Shabbat. I am upset that for the 20 totally secular kids on my trip, those with no religious connection to Judaism, that this is part of their Shabbat. It was miserably cold and we were already exhausted from lack of sleep. I didn’t want this to be 30% of their Shabbat experience. It wasn’t fair to Shabbat that the OU Welcome Center and the Old City are so far from the neighborhood where our rabbi’s parents lived.

But we survive.

And we sleep.

And we eat.

And we listen to our “group dad” speak about his career, which serves as an allegory for life.

And we listen to the secular Israelis complain about the biased view of Israel being presented to us.

And we sleep.

And we do havdalah with bay leaves and Krembos.

And I think I see Moschiach off in the distance, inching closer and closer.

Work Conversations

Yesterday, we had our weekly staff meeting.

Boss Lady: Okay, and as a head’s up, Mikvah Bound will be out of the office next week on Thursday and Friday.

Coworker 1: Oh, nice, where are you going? Weekend getaway?

Mikvah Bound: No, I’ll be going to my synagogue.  It’s Rosh HaShannah.

[Coworker 2’s eyes grow to be the size of Guam as his face reddens]

Boss Lady: Coworker 2, are you okay?

Coworker 2:  My wife is going to be so mad at me!  She wanted me to ask for that day off… like a month ago.

Coworker 1: That day? [eyes Mikvah Bound suspiciously] Why does he need one and you need two?

Mikvah Bound: I’m Conservative. We do two days.  That’s how we roll.

Coworker 2: My wife and kids go to a Reform temple.  They do one.

Boss Lady: Interesting… so you want Thursday or Friday off?

Coworker 2: Thursday.  Oh, and Wednesday, can I leave early? About an hour?

Mikvah Bound: Ooh, me too.

Coworker 1: Now you’re just being greedy!

Mikvah Bound:  The holiday actually starts Wednesday night, at sundown.  There will be services then, too.

Boss Lady: How long is this holiday?!

Mikvah Bound:   One day.  But Jewish days start at dusk and go from sundown to sundown.  Back in the olden days, people outside of Israel couldn’t determine the correct lunar date with accuracy, so they decided to add one to be sure they celebrated on the right day.

Coworker 1: So what do you do to celebrate?

Mikvah Bound: Go to synagogue a lot.   Eat a lot.  Like most any other holiday.

Boss Lady: Huh, so do some people do it three days?

Coworker 2: No, not that I’ve ever heard…

Boss Lady:  So why does Lawyer Lady upstairs need three days then?

Coworker 2: Ah, her family is Orthodox. Who knows what they do!

Mikvah Bound:  Orthodox do it two days, too.  So I bet her mom is going kinda crazy right now and needs lots of last minute meal help on Wednesday during the day, before sundown.  We can’t cook on holidays—

Coworker 1: So an important part of this holiday is food, but you can’t cook it?

Mikvah Bound: Well, we gotta cook it before and then keep it warm during the holidays, but without starting a fire.

Boss Lady: This sounds… wonderful.

Mikvah Bound: It’s not so bad normally.  But this year we have Shabbat RIGHT after, so her mom has to make three days’ worth of meals, since we can’t cook on Shabbat either.  So three days’ worth of meals all cooked before Wednesday at dusk.

Coworker 1: You people are crazy and masochistic!

Mikvah Bound: But wait, I haven’t even told you about the fast day that was supposed to fall on Saturday, but is being pushed to Sunday this year!

LiftKits and the Sabbath Manifesto

The most emailed story (as of 10 am PST) on the Chronicle’s website, usual home of trolls and neocons, relates the story of one local rabbi’s quest to empower Gen-X Jews to do Jewish things. Her approach is simple, invigorating, and yet powerful in its ability to connect with this generation’s way of life. Her brainchild is a group, “Nita,” that provides events and kits to Jews looking to Jewish things outside the walls of formal institutions.

The idea is that the formal institutions do not meet their needs, but that that does not mean Judaism cannot. It’s not judgmental, it doesn’t appear to have an agenda, and it is exactly the kind of thing I think young Jews need in this world. I recognize that I am the minority when I say synagogues work for me. (And even then, I should condition that with, at this moment, in this community.) But this group offers High Holiday services, a kit with some ritual Jewish items that aren’t like your Bubbe’s and a level of acceptance of Jews, and their Judaisms, just as they are. I don’t think any other rabbi could have pulled this off. The way her parents raised her, her husband’s career, her own career… all worked together to produce a unique understanding, and even a calling.

Browsing her site lead me to the Sabbath manifesto (included in the kit for 118 dollars—I know Timbuk2 is expensive, but Sweet Moses. I am broke). A group of Jewish artists seeking to disconnect/unplug from today’s technology-addicted, rat-race oriented world articulated 10 principles any Jew would recognize as Shabbat-oriented. The nice thing, though is that the (deceptively) simple wording leaves them open to diverse interpretation, and thus implementation (how Jewish!). They appeal to secular and religious folk, Jews and non-Jews, those who want to do one thing and those who want to do all ten.

I live at home right now and can’t entirely do my own thing (i.e., if I asked my parents to leave the tv alone for 25 hours they would laugh in my face), but they do provide good outlines for what I envision my eventual Sabbath observance to look like:

avoid technology

connect with loved ones

nurture your health

get outside

avoid commerce

light candles

drink wine

eat bread

find silence

give back

Details to be worked out in the future, of course (i.e., how do I connect with loved ones if I’m miles from them? Tin can and string? Does that still count as technology?).

Connecting the two, I tried to think of what could be made into a simple (read: cheap) Shabbat kit for young adults. I’ve got too much on my plate this year (hello job search and conversion), but it would be interesting to explore grant funding in the future for 100 outreach kits consisting of tea lights, grape juice, pre-measured dry ingredients for a mini challah loaf, cell phone and laptop “sleeping bags”, and a local guide with a list of card games, board games, parks, and drop-in volunteer opportunities. Seems simple (read: cheap) enough on a bulk scale.