Those first few minutes after havdalah when Shabbat ends are a little frightening. I am sure that those who do not use electronics on Shabbat feel, as I do, the compulsory obligation to turn on the computer and phone in order to check email, voicemail and text messages from the last 25 hours. It is not always the easiest thing to turn off the electronics and be out of the global loop for such a long time. However, this action of turning off the outside world and solely turning on Judaism is part of what makes the Jewish religion unique.
This uniqueness of Judaism is not always easy to explain. The very basic action of “inaction” from sundown on Friday through sundown on Saturday strikes many people as odd. As a senior at New York University, I have had ample opportunities to explain why I do not do certain things on Shabbat, whether describing elements of Judaism to my NYU club baseball teammates, to professors and classmates, or to potential employers who ask if I can work on Saturdays.
I grew up in an environment where Shabbat and the Holidays were treated as festive days. My family would always (and still does) have celebratory meals, attend synagogue and do the mitzvot that came along with each occasion, such as building a sukkah on Sukkot or ridding our house of chametz, leavened bread, on Passover. Attending college meant being in an environment where I would have to be the force behind some of these actions for the first time in my life.
At NYU, I am double majoring in Hebrew & Judaic Studies and Journalism, and have been lucky to not have had many conflicts with classes on the Holidays. The Hebrew & Judaic Studies department cancels classes and my Journalism professors have been relatively understanding. As I begin to look for employment following my graduation in the spring of 2015, many questions come to mind about maintaining a Jewish identity in the workforce. What if the Holidays fall during the week, like they did this year, and I need to take off time from work? How will my colleagues react if I have to take time off? These questions definitely depend on where I work but I wonder the answers to them nonetheless. Someone could look at this piece and wonder why is the author worrying about all of these things? Jews are accepted in the United States today in a way they have never been accepted anywhere else before. It would make his life so much easier to stop some of these ancient customs and fully integrate into the modern world.
The devotion to God and the belief in traditions have kept the Jewish people alive through centuries of persecution and strife. Shabbat and Holidays are an integral ingredient that make the Jewish people unique. Many Jews struggled to obtain the freedoms that American Jewry have today. In an age where Jews are struggling to maintain their Judaism, I believe it is all the more important to remember what has made the Jewish people survive from generation to generation. Everybody is entitled to make his or her own choices. Yet I still think it is sad when Jews forget where they came from and what has made them part of a unique people.
Jewish assimilation is at an all time high. Jews are losing their Jewishness, and as a result, a piece of their identity. Being part of the modern world and being a Jew are not mutually exclusive. Some Jews across all denominations of Judaism have been able to make this dichotomy work. Not everybody needs to turn off their electronics in order to channel into their Judaism. However, more now than at anytime in history, the Jewish people need to understand their historical uniqueness for the continued survival of their people.