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How Shabbat Traditions Give You What You Need, When You Need It

How Shabbat Traditions Give You What You Need, When You Need It

“More than the Jewish people has kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jewish people.”
– Ahad Ha-am (Asher Zvi Hirsch Ginsberg, 1856 –1927)

On most Friday afternoons during the last six years, just before turning off my computer, I peruse a starred folder in my Gmail account that most people probably don’t have: It’s my “Possible FB postings for Shabbat” file, an organic, growing anthology of quotes related to Shabbat. Many of them are borrowed from the liturgy in the Reform siddur (prayer book).

When a quote strikes me as the right one for a particular week, I make that text my Facebook status, turn off my computer, and let Shabbat begin. Last week, Ahad Ha-am’s words spoke to me, as they so often do. Even as I scurried to close up shop on the work week, I noticed that the first quote in the anthology is dated July 19, 2010 – almost exactly six years ago to the day.

Sure, that might be an interesting coincidence on its own, but ultimately what caught my attention – and caused my heart to lurch – was that the 2010 date was less than two months after my mom’s death. Hers was a sonic-speed downward spiral from vibrancy and effervescence to a vicious metastatic recurrence that kept her hospitalized for seven weeks and ended after 11 more days spent in hospice.

Shell-shocked, I returned to work following shiva (the seven-day mourning period after burial). I was acutely aware that life went on, even as my father, my sister, and I remained ensnared in our grief – like prehistoric creatures trapped in the La Brea tar pits.

Only now, perusing those Shabbat quotes six years later, do I understand that collecting and posting them was an initial attempt to bring some order, predictability, and stability into a life utterly upended by grief. In the months that followed, that upended-ness continued as I struggled to come to grips with newly discovered health concerns. Needless to say, it was a difficult time.

As the turmoil went on, so, too, did my practice of posting Friday afternoon Shabbat quotes on Facebook. In hindsight, this practice not only brought some much needed steadiness to my bumpy ride, but also helped me begin to carry on my mom’s legacy. For many years, it was her minhag (custom) to leave Saturday’s mail in the mailbox until after Shabbat was over, a ritual she likely learned at one of the many adult education kallot (Jewish study seminars) she attended over the years.

Since her death, my collections of both quotes and Facebook friends have grown. So, too, have the conversations around the posts. I appreciate when friends tell me they eagerly anticipate my words as a sign that Shabbat is approaching, even as it is a time to power down, unplug, and join together with family and friends to celebrate God’s creation. Most of all, inspired by my mom’s personal tradition, I’m proud to have my own, which honors her memory and her reverence for Shabbat.

Jane E. Herman , a.k.a. JanetheWriter, is the senior writer and editor at the Union for Reform Judaism. A graduate of Lafayette College in Easton, PA, she holds a master's degree in public administration from the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College, part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system. She grew up at Temple Emanu-El in Edison, NJ, and now belongs to Temple Shaaray Tefila in New York City. A proud New Yorker, she loves books, fountain pens, social media, Words with Friends, mah jongg, and all things Jewish. She blogs at JanetheWriter Writes.

Jane E. Herman
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