A few weekends ago, I brought 20 congregants, mostly of the teenage variety, to New York City for a "Jewish New York" experience. We went to two different Reform synagogues, visited Jewish museums, and ate pizza, Chinese food, bagels, and many, many pickles. Shabbat was a packed day – morning services, a synagogue tour, a bit of exploring on the east side, a big Chinese dinner, and finally the Broadway musical, Wicked. It was a long day, lots of walking; so much buzzing in their heads, the sounds, the sights, the people.
As we hurried through Times Square, heading from dinner toward the theater, I spotted a sizable lowered square plaza, a subway entrance, and ushered my group down the flight of stairs. We formed a circle, just below the hustle and bustle of New York, and took out our travel Havdalah set: a candle, an orange studded with cloves, and a bottle of grape juice. As the familiar melody wafted up into the noise of the city, we bid adieu to a very special Shabbat of exploration, of the new and the familiar. We weren't in a quiet place, we didn't have the most beautiful silver Havdalah set, but we created a holy space (in a subway entrance no less) to bless the separation between the holy and mundane. We renamed that small square, Havdalah Square, and when we passed it the next day, on the way to another New York adventure, several of my teens proclaimed, "Rabbi Cameron, there's Havdalah Square!" It seems that the aura of our holiness had indelibly marked that space for my teens.
Havdalah is not simply a ritual of separation. It is a reminder to take time every week – to reflect, to slow down amid the hectic pace of life, bless the passing of time, thank God for another Shabbat and the week ahead, and create holy space. It matters not whether you purchase your exquisitely crafted braided candle on a special trip to the Tzfat Candle Factory or order it on Amazon, or buy your bottle of grape juice at the corner store. The ritual objects of Havdalah do not create the holy space, but rather it is the kavanah, intention, with which we imbue them. Make the time, carve out space for those moments, and savor the sweetness in the balance between the ordinary and the extraordinary.
Jillian R. Cameron is the assistant rabbi and educator at Temple B'nai Shalom in Fairfax Station, Virginia.