Thursday, December 29, 2011

Shabbat in the New Year

After six days of creation, God rested. Silently, I ponder the words: God rested. Significant. Important. God knew enough to rest. Mostly, I don’t, so on one recent Saturday morning, visiting my son, my daughter-in-law and my grandson in their apartment on the Lower East Side of New York City, I was delighted to learn they were observing Shabbat by giving up electronics. This practice has a name, Technology Sabbath, a twenty four hour period once a week to turn off television sets, iPads, iPods and cell phones.

The daughter of an assimilated German Jewish father and a non practicing Jewish mother, I grew up without a formal Jewish education. I raised my three sons without Hebrew School. My own journey back to Judaism began when my sons were in their teens—too late for Bar Mitzvahs. My daughter-in-law, a convert to Judaism, loves the faith. She is our lucky, lovely gift. At nine my grandson attends Hebrew School, and I fully expect he will become a Bar Mitzvah. Committed to Judaism, but not Orthodox or Conservative in their observance, my family does not sweat the details of pushing buttons on Shabbat, elevator buttons, stove buttons. Nor do I.

On that Saturday morning I sat in the living room of my son’s and daughter-in-law’s apartment, thinking of Shabbat long ago, which I called Shabbos, then. I was six when I rode the bus from Madison to Morristown, New Jersey to spend the weekend with Mama and Papa, Orthodox Jews who observed Shabbos while my Mom and Dad worked in Dad’s store. Mama and Papa did not switch on lights or strike a match to ignite a burner on the stove. Papa did not smoke his pipe. Quiet descended inside the house while Papa sat in his blue easy chair, reading the Yiddish newspaper. Did Mama read, too? I don’t remember. I remember sitting in her lap, touching her curls and breathing in her soft, sweet lilac scent. I remember my small hand in Papa’s hand as we walked to Burnham Park where I stooped down at the edge of a pond and waited for a single brave duck to pluck a wad of bread from my palm. I wanted that touch of the duck’s beak, blunt and rough, but not sharp. Later, I would stand outside on the front porch watching for the first three stars to appear in the sky so I could announce the end of Shabbos. Even then, as a child, I felt the bitter sweetness of a moment that was both an ending and a beginning.

Giving up electronics on Shabbat is not simple. Work spilled into weekends. On that day, my son, a film maker and adjunct professor, was editing his latest film on two large monitors in his study. Always, he was plugged in, communicating with his actors, his production team, his students either on line or by cell phone. My daughter-in-law, an associate professor at a college in New Jersey, relied on electronics to collect and grade student papers, to plan meetings, to keep in touch with her colleagues. “Now,” my daughter-in-law said to me, “we have no choice. We go hiking every Saturday. We do things together as a family.”

Abraham Joshua Heschel, scholar and theologian who among his many books wrote that wonderful slim volume, “The Sabbath,” called Shabbat “a palace in time.” To appreciate Shabbat we needed to turn away from space. In space we acquired things, laptops, iPods, iPads, iPhones. In time we connected with each other, with nature, with that mysterious force that some called God, that others like me refused to name because there was too much baggage associated with that particular naming.

On that Saturday, the four of us drove to New Jersey to pick up my granddaughter whose father, my oldest son, was away. We drove to Bear Mountain State Park, all five plus Jo-Jo, the dog, a white bichon with a trim hair cut. We hiked to a shelter, roasted hot dogs on sticks, not Kosher, along with tofu dogs. Kosher? We toasted our bread on forked sticks. We walked to caves where the children explored hidden narrow passages, calling back, laughing. Jo-Jo ran in circles up a bank and through leaves. My daughter-in-law, my son and I stood at the mouth of the cave listening to the children’s shouts, keeping track. Time swelled, and I wished this moment would last forever. It wouldn’t. But it would come again, and this was the glory of Shabbat.

Following a trail out of the park, I felt the mystery of water rushing in a stream and of the sun shining through bare branches at a slant and warming the cold air. I listened to my grandchildren chatter. I walked for awhile with my daughter-in-law, then with my son, my heart kvelling, that Yiddish word that means joy, but so much more than joy. We were a family: together.

Nearly three weeks have passed since that Shabbat. It is Thursday, December 29, and I am thinking of the new year. I don’t do well with Resolutions; yet, I feel the need to make one. Just one. In 2012, I will abstain from electronics on Shabbat. At home, I will rest, read and spend my day with my husband and my dogs, taking the joy of Shabbat into my heart.

I wish you all, a happy, healthy and joyous new year. And a good Shabbos.