Yep, I kept Shabbos. For real. I didn’t cheat, I didn’t sneak into the bathroom to check my phone, I went to shul for all three prayers, and I was pretty much indistinguishable from every other person in the neighborhood.
I’m about as irreligious as one can be, and I’m also quite stringent (I would call it “principled”) about my irreligiously. Not that I’m incapable of putting on a yarmulka when I visit my parents’ home, or that I blatantly break Shabbos rules in front of Orthodox family or friends, but I have my deeply held beliefs (or lack thereof), and I wouldn’t bend them for money or other reasons other than a change of heart.
The reason I agreed to the deal was because first of all, I wasn’t personally being paid. The money all went to Chai Lifeline. Secondly, I gave my word – albeit without realizing that I was being taken seriously. And finally, I feel like keeping Shabbos is a passive act. It involves refraining from the use of technology, and mandatory “resting.” It doesn’t hurt anyone, and it didn’t bother me morally. You couldn’t pay me enough to eat a piece of meat, and likewise I wouldn’t become or pretend to be religious for all the money in the world. Unless I believed in it. I gave up too much to go back to faking it just for money. But I was very clear with Isaac (the donor) from the beginning, that this was only one Shabbos, and I wouldn’t be pretending to be anything I wasn’t. I was essentially going through the motions, but I wouldn’t claim to have had a change of heart, or say anything I don’t believe.
So how was it? It wasn’t all that bad. Going to the mikvah (hey, it was part of the deal) wasn’t too traumatic, but I was nervous as Shabbos got closer. Within minutes of Shabbos setting in though, I felt a certain calm come over me, knowing that I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) check my phone or computer for the latest update. I could pick any day or hour of the week to disconnect for a while, but there is nothing stopping me from reconnecting. On Shabbos there is no such choice. The last time I kept Shabbos fully was long before the advent of social media or smart phones, so this experience was new to me.
We went to a Modern Orthodox shul for Friday night davening, which was only vaguely familiar (nusach Askenaz? Faux Carlebach songs?), but was a walk down memory lane nonetheless. Dinner was nice.
Shabbos day we davened at Chabad, which was a little more familiar, and I met someone there I haven’t seen in 25 years, so that was nice. The local Chabad rabbi is a man I know and like a lot. After davening was kiddush in shul, which featured surprisingly little vodka for a Chabad affair, but was made up for by copious amounts of other drinks. The Chabad nigunim melodies (my favorite) flowed freely along with the drinks, and those continued throughout the afternoon as we kiddush-hopped our way home.
Lunch was delicious, and Rebbetzin Schmeckelstein’s parve cholent (first she’s ever made!) was incredible. After lunch I gave a lesson (for an additional $500) on the history of chassidism to a bunch of misnagdim, and then we went back to Chabad for mincha. I knew I was out of town when they served shalosh seudos, Chabad doesn’t usually do that….
My thoughts on the whole thing? I had a good time, but it didn’t make me see the light, and I don’t plan on making a habit of this. I felt a bit of sadness listening to the rabbi’s speeches, and observing the rules alongside everyone else, because I couldn’t stop thinking to myself “it’s such a shame this is all based on fairytales,” but I raised more than $2,000 for charity by basically not doing much for 25 hours, so I have no regrets.
To those of you who took offense to my little stunt, or are jealous of the attention my shtick tends to get (I had four journalists approach me about this story, I didn’t contact anyone on my own), all I can say is: too bad, so sad. Go out and purchase yourself a sense of humor, since you clearly weren’t born with one. Or don’t, see if I care.
In case you have no clue what I’m referring to, here’s the story.