Three weeks ago, Emma had a flawless Friday night at Hillel. During “Israel Shabbat,” she was joyous as she washed each hand, twice, before eating challah. She tapped her foot in rhythm to Lecha Dodi during Kabbalat Shabbat. Most notably, she did not push nor shove the moment the schwarma was served. Instead, she waited patiently in line, which was messier than the Israeli/Palestinian conflict itself. The line wasn’t green; it was olive, teal, army, forest, and lime.
By now, you may have figured out that Emma is not Jewish. In fact, Emma has blue hair, had never met a Jew until she met me, and isn’t any kind of religious at all. She came with me to Hillel to fulfill a “diversity” assignment for one of our classes. Shabbat for Emma was new. And it was fun.
Of course non-Jewish Emma was the only model Jew of the night. If God had intended for Jews to be models, I doubt he would have given us such big noses. All the better to smell the schwarma with, my dear.
Shabbat, like much of Judaism, is enmeshed in routine. We eat in routine, we pray in routine, maybe we even love in routine too…? Since Mount Sinai, Jews have been shaped by a set 25 hours. Ok fine, twenty five hours and eighteen minutes. Shabbat is so structured, if we didn’t build physical walls (eruvs) around our neighborhoods, we would be physically immobile.
Essentially, Shabbat can be as tight as of the pencil skirts worn by Yeshiva day school girls’ across the tri-state area. Even something that feels like Shabbat may dubbed “shabbos-stick.” Yes, we are so shtark, we apparently even name our sticks after it. Note: do not confuse “shabbos-stick” with “shtick,” despite the previous post that “shtick is shtark.”
Despite this, Shabbat is special because it evolves with us. During the day school years, Shabbat meant hopping off the school bus to a long weekend with my family. Then in gap year Israel, it meant chasing after the last bus, which apparently shut down on Wednesday for Shabbat, to hopefully see my family or any family or any food at all. And then came the wonders of secular college, where we were told that Shabbat was “fun.” And it was at first, with all of the mixed dancing and whatnot that we had been warned about.
It’s a rule: On Wednesdays we wear pink, on Shabbat we have fun. If we say it, it must be true…right?
I’ve found that lately, the routine of Shabbat has become comfortable. Not comfortable, “Friday night fall asleep on the couch reading” comfortable. Comfortable, “I’m in seminary so I don’t need to get dressed anymore” comfortable. Too comfortable that we forget to keep it special. Somehow, with the walls, and perhaps because of them, we can feel immobile. Not from physical steps, but from taking our routine for granted. Maybe the way to #makeshabbosfunagain is to tear down the walls of mindlessness. It’s time to shed our mental Ugg slippers, flowy skirts, and baggy sweatshirts.
This Shabbat, I helped another four friends looking to fulfill their diversity assignments. Now the ultimate “Jewish tour guide,” I paraded them around Hillel. We may not have Testudo the Terp, but we have some historically significant monuments of our own; the decaf coffee urn (which has been out of commission since parents’ weekend), the couch where the xbox used to reside, and the “menu of the week,” which proudly showcases the meal options from second days of Passover. We even walked twenty minutes to the JLIC couple’s home after davening for a delicious and inspiring Friday Night dinner.
The most successful tour guides are asked questions. I was no exception.
“What exactly can’t you do on the Sabbath?” I probably recalled about 15 of the 39 melachot. I am at least certain that I captured the biggie: no ripping toilet paper.
“Why do you stand for this prayer and sit for that one?” Apparently, I had forgotten to stand for kedusha.
“Why do some people just sit there, and some people sing the different prayers?’ How does one explain social orthodoxy in a sentence or two? One of the girls was from “North Jersey;” I wonder if she’s heard of Englewood…
While I felt proud to be the new spokesperson for the Jewish people (just call me Chief Lord Rabbi Kira Cohen), I was also ashamed at how little I actually knew. Despite twelve years of day school education and a year in seminary, my nose was apparently so stuck in my schwarma that I had forgotten to look up. Shabbat is a routine. But it can have novelty too.
It’s hard to spice up Shabbat anywhere, and especially at college, without diluting it. Questioning the shabbos-sticks and stones could break Shabbat’s bones. More likely than actually violating Shabbat, any suggestion to deviate from tradition holds you accountable for ridicule of the “secular college” argument. So can I go to a football game on Shabbat? I must be texting about it too. I spend more time with my non-Jewish friends than my Jewish ones? Well, that’s basically intermarriage and now I’m pregnant with the next leader of Amalek. Bring non-Jews to Hillel? Maybe…that’s ok.
So sign up for a tour of Judaism with Chief Lord Rabbi Kira Cohen. I guess you already did if you’re still reading these incredibly ridiculous blog posts. I promise that through them, I will try to #makeshabbosfunagain.