On Being a Veterinarian & Observing Shabbat - No Matter What
Veterinary medical school and practice are not in tune with observance of Shabbat. Cats don’t know it is Shabbat when they get sick. Dogs don’t realize there might be something else going on when they eat a golfball. As such, observing Shabbat has always been a challenge at our house.
While in vet school, I was doing well to be home on Friday night at all, but my family always tried to stop, light our candles, and have dinner — even if it meant someone had to pick up a pizza on the way home. For us, it became a reminder that there has to be a stopping point somewhere. That started a family tradition of sitting down and stopping for whatever time we had, no matter what else was going on.
Because of school schedules, we couldn't stop everything for Shabbat — so our brand of Shabbat observance meant we didn't do the other things that we did through the week. No studying. No complaining about school or work, though frequently there was a lot to complain about. No TV or computer. And now that we are out of school, that is still what we do. We have dinner, we play Scrabble, we read, we talk about the topics we seem to never have time for during the week. When the timing lines up, we go to synagogue; when it doesn’t, we block everything else out for whatever time there is.
That has carried over into our lives now. As a practicing veterinarian, I share a schedule with others and sometimes have to work on Shabbat. Still, we always carve out whatever time we can. When I get home on Friday night — whether it is 6 p.m. and we are going to go to synagogue or 10 p.m. after spending the evening getting a patient stable enough to make it through the night — we stop for whatever time we have together. Dinner is set. We pour a glass of wine, take a deep breath, and light the candles. That is the signal that the rest of the world needs to go away for a little while.
A wise rabbi once told me, “The Jews came up with a day of rest for a reason.” At the time, he was trying to get me to slow down for a minute and not let school consume me. It has done that, and I have held on to that. Now that I am in practice, it would be very easy to let my patients and clients take over. Still, I hold on to Shabbat as a time to step out of the busy-ness of everyday life, even if it is just for a few hours. For us, Shabbat is about taking the time, whatever time that may be. For a few hours or the entire evening, there is time to stop — because tomorrow, we have to get up and do it all over again.
Jodi Edwards is a member of Temple Solel in Bowie, MD, and a practicing veterinarian.