Shabbat oh Shabbat. It was on the seventh day that God rested. He looked back to what he had created in six days and he saw it was very good. Jews are required to perform the Mitzvah of keeping Shabbat. Isn’t that a wonderful idea. One Full day of rest and peace and quiet. One day of nothingness. One day to retreat, reculer pour mieux sauter, rebreathe and recover.
It is a brilliant concept, Shabbat. The first months of our stay here, I would dwell over it. I would go to the most orthodox of ultra orthodox neighborhoods and pretend I was preparing for Shabbat, too. There, in Mea Shearim, people would get ready for their big day. The Big Day that returns every week. They would make arrangements for Shabbat, clean and shop. They would bathe their children and dress them in their prettiest clothes. They would cook for the day to come and set the table with clean linen and beautiful utensils.
Shabbat is like a bride that should be welcomed in pretty clothes, with the best foods and the happiest spirit. A good Jew should live frugally and not indulge, except on his Holy Day. It all sounded so wonderful to me.
Of course, being the homeschooling mother of five young children, a day of absolute and obligatory rest equals a peek in to heaven. But it was also the happy spirit that seemed to surround this wonderful day of the week that made me love it. It had such a different feeling compared to the seemingly endless and boring Sundays of my youth.
But then reality knocked on my door once again. Knocked, because on Shabbat one is not allowed to open or close and electrical circuit so ringing the bell is a big no go. You can ask others to do it for you, though, as long as they are not Jewish. And since we still haven’t converted to Judaism yet, we have turned in to our neighborhood’s little Shabbat helpers. Our son has been asked numerous times to plug devices in and out and turn switches on and off.
Shabbat starts at sunset on Friday and lasts till sunset on Saturday. Of course we tried our best to keep the kids quiet on Saturday morning, just like we have always done on Sunday mornings back in Europe. We always tried to be as quiet as we could possibly be with five early risers. What we didn’t know but apparently is quite a golden standard, is that we have to shut up between two and four pm, too. And because it is virtually impossible to keep our bunch quiet for two hours during the day, we chose to leave our house now. Every Saturday we try to go places with them, so that we will not offend our neighbors.
Hard work? Yes, it is, because on Shabbat most things are closed. So we flee the city of Jerusalem to go to the beach near Tel Aviv. Or we visit a museum with liberal opening hours. And every time I get in to the car I also realize how lucky I am not Jewish. I can travel on Shabbat.
Shabbat is for the people, the people are not for Shabbat, a wise Rabbi once said. And I notice how hard it is for some to remember that. True, it is hard to find the perfect balance. But if you are afraid that ” An Arab is about to beat his wife up”, would you rather call the police yourself, or would you wait until you find a non-Jewish person to call the police for you? Making a phone call would close an electrical circuit and is formally forbidden on Shabbat. A panicking couple my husband met on the street last week decided the latter. And my husband decided to not call at all but just talk to the guy screaming at his wife.
Or how about our very pregnant neighbor who’s brothers are called back in to the army to fight in Gaza? She fears for their well being every day, not a fraction less on Shabbat. So she will come to our door to ask us whether we have heard any news from Gaza. When we look the Israeli news up on our laptop, she is not allowed to read it. And since our Hebrew is still crappy, we can not reassure her. When she starts crying I can not help thinking this Shabbat is in no way beneficial for a pregnant woman. So we inform ourselves through English languages news sites and casually tell her as if we looked it up for ourselves.
Often, on Shabbat, my dear Haredi friend Sara comes by. Always with her husband, sometimes with other family members. She brings sweets and smiles.The couple is dressed up in their most beautiful attire. Sara’s husband Rami wears a large fur hat. Sara herself is in white and gold. I still can not really talk to her and when her husband’s translation services aren’t fast enough for me, I want to use my translation app on my phone. On Shabbat, she can not read it unless I have written it just for myself. That’s when Shabbat gets too complicated for me and I put the phone away.
On the way out, last Shabbat, Sara leans against the wall while her husband kisses our Mezuzah. She accidentally leans against the light switch and lights up the whole room. An expression of true horror and shock darkens her face until her husband reassures her it is ok because it was an accident. I hug her and laugh. And I whisper in her ear: It’s ok, Shabbat is for the people.