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Friday, June 24, 2005

Views of Shabbos

Esther wrote an article for the Jewish Week about why she no longer lights Shabbos candles. Aside from the fact that it is beautifully written (one of these days, I am going to have to ask her for pointers on writing), I found the article so interesting specifically because of what Shabbos has become for her, and the contrast in what it means for me. For Esther, Shabbos has become a lonely time by herself - hours stretching before her, with no one to connect with by phone, e-mail or Internet. It is staying in an apartment alone, watching the candles melt down to their base, and then being in the dark - spiritually, socially and physically. It signifies the absence of a family, and the fading hopes of creating one of her own. She writes about the Shabbos candles: "Now, they invoke the hazy, increasingly uncertain promise of a future family that I don’t have. These candles, which are supposed to embody the endless optimism of a day of rest, work another mojo — unsettling my mind and making me feel lonelier. It’s like they’re squinting at me, trying to figure out what I’m doing there by myself. Their unsteadiness seems to symbolize my search for meaning in rituals that are clearly meant, optimally, for families." The reason why this article struck me so much is because, as mentioned above, my connection with Shabbos and lighting Shabbos candles stands in a stark contrast. For me, Shabbos is the time when I actually get to spend time with those families I have become close with. It is often the only time when my friends who are married with children can slow down and take a break from carpools and soccer games, and can sit and talk with me, and connect. Shabbos to me is the time I have to walk around and visit those people I haven't been able to catch during the week, when conflicting schedules often make it difficult to find the mutually agreeable free time. When I was in school, Shabbos was often the only point during the week that I was capable of finding the time to be social, and see my friends, and I treasured it greatly. I know I am extremely lucky - I have an incredible network of very hospitable individuals who invite me for Shabbos meals every week. I have a few people who I am close enough with that I have no trouble inviting myself into their homes, and some that I can go to each week if I want. To me, this hospitality is also Shabbos, and I am always startled when I meet someone who doesn't have the same experience, who has trouble finding places to eat meals, and often eats alone, not by choice. In becoming religious, Shabbos was introduced to me as a time to share your home and meals, and I have slowly been finding this utopic view shattered by other singles I encounter who tell me they don't have the same experience I do. So to me, lighting Shabbos candles is the beginning of 25 hours of freedom to see my friends, to interact, to use our day of rest as a way to build my communal bond with other Jews. I think it is sad that it is not the case for so many others, and it should be a call to klal Yisrael to strengthen their Ahavas Yisrael and reach out to those beyond their families, or to look at family as a much bigger structure. I think people should take a look around and see what they can do to make Shabbos special and welcoming for all, and not just those they spend the whole week with. I think Shabbos has the power to bring so many together, if we would just wake up and make it happen. Esther, I truly hope that while you are still single, Shabbos can become a day of connecting with others. And once you start your own family (which I pray will be very soon), you will remember how Shabbos made you feel, and do everything in your effort to change that feeling for others. Good Shabbos!

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