Sunday, August 22, 2004

The Magic of Shabbos

(Written in May, 2001)

A few weeks ago, I had a particularly fabulous Shabbos. I was in my mid-20s before I first learned about Shabbos. More than 15 years later, I experienced a Shabbos that was, without question, scented with the aroma of the World-to-Come.

I didn’t grow up with Shabbos, or with much Jewishness at all, for that matter. No Hebrew school. No Sara and Abraham. No Shema. No sukkah. No Israel (though I was born after 1948). And most assuredly, no Shabbos.

My early Jewish memories are rather limited. My brother’s bris when I was four. My mother, with a square of paper towel on her head, turning orange Chanukah bulbs in a plastic menorah and reciting in English, “Bless-ed art Thou, O! Lord our G-d, King of the Universe who has sanctified us by Thy commandments and commanded us to kindle the light of Chanukah.” The perpetual problem of which grandmothers’ gefilte fish tasted better. The Bas Mitzvah of a junior high school classmate, which I attended, but didn’t understand. Yiddish, spoken to prevent me from knowing. No bologna with milk but also no explanation as to why not. Scant snippets of Jewish moments. Not even whole memories.

Ah! But this special Shabbos was saturated with memory-making moments. Friday night, our table brimmed with friends, old and new. Before dinner, our 11 year-old led us in a game of Jewish bingo she created that afternoon. Her cleverness warmed me. None of the special dishes I cooked for dinner flopped. And then, loudly singing our communal bentching, our raucous Grace After Meals, filled with our family’s idiosyncratic quirkiness that grows more complex each year.

Shabbos morning, I walked to shul for the first time in months, after a winter of being confined by knee pain. Cherished friends, members of another congregation, joined us to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the husband’s bar mitzvah. Before our friend chanted his Haftorah, just as he had at age 13, his wife spoke powerfully, highlighting a theme of the Haftorah and relating it to her husband’s admirable character. The pleasure of having impressive friends.

Another family, mutual friends of very long-standing, whose loyalty was proven in my darker days, also came to our shul. Our children all know each other, some literally from birth. At the kiddush, we ate sweet pineapple and strawberry shortcake.

Walking home from shul, all 13 of us, I had an urge to commit absolutely every detail of this glorious day to memory. The complete peacefulness of Shabbos. No cars to drive. No phones to answer. No bills to pay. No PDA to hotsynch. The warm, soft weather of early spring. Early blossoming trees in full bloom. Young, healthy children, laughing together and running ahead.

A long Shabbos afternoon spent joyfully, surrounded by well-married friends with whom we share our worries and our inside jokes. All the brachas that Hashem perpetually presents to me, sweetly tied together in one glorious 25-hour Shabbos.

Someday, looking back on it will make me weep.

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