How My Son Helped Me Re-Imagine Shabbat
Shabbat is an ever-evolving practice. When things are easy, I have a regular Shabbat practice and rituals that I practice every week, providing a Shabbat that is full of rest. Before 2011, I had Shabbat figured out. I'd recently graduated from Hebrew Union College-Rhea Hirsch School of Education and I moved with my wife Claire to Baltimore. There, we would alternate between going to Shabbat services on some Friday nights and celebrating Shabbat at home on others. For six months we had a rhythm and things were easy.
On January 17, 2011, our son Elie was born. With his arrival, my Shabbat practice was flipped upside down and these and other questions entered my head as we plowed forward in Jewish parenthood: What would Shabbat look like with an infant in tow? What were my dreams, hopes, and desires for his understanding of Shabbat? How would Shabbat work with Elie's sporadic schedule? How would my Shabbat change? The rollercoaster of Shabbat observance was moving again, but I wasn't sure where it would stop.
The first time we took Elie to "PJ Shabbat" at our synagogue, the joy we felt as we sang songs and recited blessings with the community told us we wanted to make this monthly service a part of our family ritual. As Elie has grown older, we slowly have exposed him to non-preschool services. One of my favorite Shabbat experiences was sitting with him at morning services - the two of us wrapped in my tallit (prayer shawl) - as he, focused and fascinated, kept his eyes on the cantor's guitar. Although he made noises and noshed, and we were in and out of the room during the service, I was amazed at Elie's ability to pay attention and focus. There have been equally amazing moments celebrating Shabbat at home with family and friends. Having a Shabbat observance that varies keeps it interesting and engaging.
Celebrating Shabbat with children provides opportunities to bring forth the beauty and joy of the day, no matter what form they take. Nonetheless, a question still lingered: With Elie in my life, what would my personal Shabbat practice look like? Many of my friends and I put all of our Shabbat energy into our families, leaving little time for ourselves. Even so, my relationship with Shabbat has definitely changed for the better as I have tried many different avenues in my search for what speaks to me, especially now that I have less time for myself. I have attended services by myself, read the weekly parashah, and entered in chevruta (partnered study) with a friend about the weekly Torah portion. Each of these things has found its way into my Shabbat practice in one form or another. Creating this practice has not been an easy task, and it has taken time to find a rhythm.
Shabbat is an amazing experience - whether celebrated with family, friends, or your community. It also can be an intensely personal one. I charge you to explore what speaks to you on our day of rest. Go find your Shabbat. Go create your own Shabbat practice.
Brad Cohen is the Director of Education at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.