The growing importance of Shabbat in quarantine

We’re now well into our third week of quarantine here in Israel and it’s getting harder and harder to distinguish between one day and the next.

It used to be, what now seems like a lifetime ago, that days were defined by their unique schedules. As an Israel educator/tour guide, almost every day was a different adventure for me, traveling the length and breadth of this glorious country every couple of months. While my wife’s work schedule is more constant, our kids’ lives mostly set the rhythm and pace of our day-to-day life, making each day different and distinctive—chuggim, Bnei Akiva, playdates and the like.

And now, every day is the same. Intensely the same.

No going to work for me (for there is no work to be done.)

No school, after-school activities, youth movement, or seeing friends for my kids.

It’s become easy to forget if it’s a Tuesday or a Thursday because, essentially, everyday has become a copy/paste of the day before it and a foreshadowing of the day that will come tomorrow.

Yes, my kids, like most kids, are filling up their days in quarantine with a collage of interesting, diverse and meaningful activities (exercise, gymnastics, YouTube art videos and learning Arabic, to name a few), but the flow and feeling of each day is basically the same. Especially for me who, because my wife is working (online) during the day, is solely responsible for making sure that our kids wake up at a somewhat reasonable time, are periodically fed, keep up with their quarantine activities and leave the house once a day for our daily walk (no further than 100 meters, of course). And while there are those sweet moments, those fun moments, and those deep family bonding moments (like campfires with smores and spontaneous dance parties), as the week goes on I feel like I’m waking up every morning to live the same day once again.

And then somewhere in the midst of the amorphous cluster of days, Shabbat comes.

And despite the fact that there are aspects of quarantine that feel like a never-ending Shabbat, blurring the line somewhat between the six days of the week and the sanctified seventh day, there is still something powerful about transitioning from the mode of weekday quarantine to Shabbat quarantine. Even more powerful than during normal weeks and normal times.

First and foremost is putting our phones down and shutting off the screens and giving ourselves a very necessary and healthy break from the onslaught of (and addiction to) Coronavirus updates, videos, charts, numbers and articles. During these past few weeks I have been vacillating between shedding tears as the seriousness of this pandemic and its effects intensifies and breaking out into loud laughter from the latest funny meme I receive on Whatsapp. Temporarily disconnecting from the world has never been more important to give ourselves a rest from the emotional exhaustion this pandemic (coupled with unrelenting media) is causing and will continue to cause for the foreseeable future.

Shabbat also helps us to remember, while not pretending there is no pain or suffering in the world, that there still is great beauty in the world. That there are countless reasons to be happy and feel blessed to be alive, both in general and in this time specifically. To take one day of the week and focus specifically and intently on that which is not broken in order to recharge and rejuvenate ourselves so that we can face another week of a world that indeed does have darkness in it, and have the strength and the ability to confront it and transform it.

More than ever, Shabbat provides an anchor of familiarity in these days of the very unfamiliar. An experience of something normal in these times of the very abnormal. The rituals of Shabbat act as a comfort to help us realize that the world as we know it, or knew it, is not entirely gone. The candles, the prayers, the songs, the wine, the challah, the food, the family time, the games, the downtime, and the naps all combine to create a refuge and a sanctuary from a world that is, let’s be honest, scary right now.

At the onset of the past two Shabbats spent in quarantine, and I imagine the same thing will happen this Shabbat as well, I suddenly remember that we are not stuck in a repeating 24-hour cycle of time. That there still is a forward movement of time taking place. That what we are going through right now is just one chapter, albeit a very challenging one, of a long story that is still unfolding for the Jewish people and for all of humanity.

But, as in the past, this too shall pass and we will one day (hopefully soon) return to days that are filled with their individual tones and colors while never forgetting these unique times that we are experiencing right now.

 

About the Author
Akiva Gersh is the editor of the book "Becoming Israeli" (www.becomingisraeli.com), a compilation of blogs and essays that speak of the inspiring and the sometimes wacky and crazy experience of making aliyah. Akiva himself made aliyah in 2004 with his wife Tamar and they live in Pardes Hanna with their four kids. He teaches Jewish history at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel in Hod HaSharon. He is also a musician and in 2010 formed Holy Land Spirit, an uplifting and spiritual musical experience for Christian groups visiting Israel.
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