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Savoring the Separation of Shabbat

Savoring the Separation of Shabbat

Although we never take off our watches, everyone seems to know that camp time runs at a different pace. Shabbat feels both longer and fuller that it does at home – and camp is the only place where I am truly able to take advantage of everything Shabbat can offer.

At URJ Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI), a Reform Jewish summer camp in Oconomowoc, WI, the rituals signaling that Shabbat is coming begin on Friday morning: bagels for breakfast, grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. We cycle through the day, completing each activity with a bit of extra intention and eagerness. We shower, pick our outfits, and gather together for Friday night services, where we sing louder than usual. Following dinner, all of camp comes together for Shabbat Shira, an energetic song session in which our joy and ruach (spirit) spills out from under the doors to fill camp with the warmth of Shabbat. The older campers participate in folk dances, and after all the festivities, each cabin or tent slowly falls asleep.

This Shabbat, I have volunteered to read from Torah. I greet the morning a "hello" and practice my Torah portion before walking to breakfast. It seems that as soon as the Shabbat service starts that morning, I find myself cleaning my plate after lunch. Afternoon free time begins: Shabbat is a day of rest, but my particular camp unit has been speaking Hebrew all week, and it is exhausting. I am now free to relax physically and socially, and mentally: I no longer have the obligation of choosing each of my words carefully, of thinking about conjugations, verb tenses, or grammar. I am free to speak English with my friends. We catch up on books we had been reading; we catch up with each other, and we catch up with ourselves. We take long walks around camp, we live a little bit more slowly, a little bit more purposefully. Before we know it, our free hours and the size of the sun are dwindling. It is time for Havdalah, the ceremony separating Shabbat from the week.

But I am not yet satisfied with my rest. I need more time inside of myself this Shabbat. I decide that I need to spend Havdalah alone , separate from the group. After all, Havdalah translates to “separation.”

As the sky darkens, I quietly scale the migdal, a two-story climbing tower. Lying down on my back and looking up at the sky, I see that previous campers have written their names inside the migdal in places that would be impossible to see from anywhere except here, where I am right now.

Below me, two stories down and slightly to my right, my friends and counselors sit in a circle below me, and I hum along as they sing the blessings. A small part inside of myself that I did not know existed slides into place. I look at the sky again and see that all at once, there are stars.

I climb down the stairs softly and join the group in folk songs. My friends say they saw me up there, and I find that I am not disappointed to have been not-totally-alone. In fact, it doesn't matter at all. In this moment, I am whole, and I am completely ready for the week ahead. I rush into it as I fall asleep.

Alyssa Coffey, 16, is a member of Beth Emet the Free Synagogue in Evanston, IL, and has served on the board for its high school youth group, BESSY, for two years. She enjoys knitting, reading, writing, and running.

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