A small voice from behind me made me jump. For two reasons.
One, I had just done something that I hoped no one had seen.
Two, I had watched the movie ‘It’ a few days before; this needs no further explanation.
“But it’s Shabbos,” came the little voice as he saw my incriminating fingers leave the light switch.
I am in Israel for a few months, staying with family near Tel Aviv.
“Don’t tell your mom,” escaped my mouth. Followed by: “No, no, tell her… never keep anything from your parents.”
My, oh my, I was really digging myself a hole.
Here is the thing, and the little ones know it: “Sandy is different from us.”
But, what if we’re not all that different?
My grandfather, a strong man with a deep sense of Jewish identity, retained his connection to Judaism throughout his life. Every action of his, no matter how seemingly insignificant, was measured against Jewish ethics and ideals. And he was filled with a love for his brethren, no matter their background or beliefs. Conflict among his people would unsettle him deeply. He would simply say: “We are all Jews.” I loved it when he said this.
Some of my grandfather’s Jewish pride evidently filtered through to my father, who loves his Judaism almost as much as he loves his children. He sent me to a Jewish high school, which equipped me with an understanding of Judaism. He also ingrained in me my own unique sense of Jewish identity. Being Jewish is very much a part of who I am. And, while I don’t often keep Shabbat myself, the Jewish day of rest has always held a particularly special place in my heart.
The last Shabbat I kept, the little ones and I were playing in the park. My phone was nowhere near. No meetings. I wasn’t ruled by time. I had nowhere to be. I am only too aware of how quickly life is speeding by. I see the importance of moving forward, but I can’t say I don’t miss a world where I don’t check my phone throughout the day. Where I can just sit on a park bench and chat to a stranger, without wanting anything from him. Conversation for the sake of conversation.
Shabbat is the time for that conversation. Time outside of day-to-day life. It’s about disconnecting from everything that isn’t human, not just technology. It’s about giving time, real time, to ourselves and to those around us. Time is the greatest gift anyone can give us. When I was in the park with the kids, I was there, really there. And this, for me, is what Shabbat is – an awareness of being present; a reminder, not just to be where I am, but to really swim in every moment.
Maybe not all Jews keep Shabbat, but I think most of us recognize its beauty and importance. There are so many things that bind us together: our history, our culture, our collective experience. But Shabbat seems to me to be the core of Judaism, the one thing we can truly all relate and connect to.
It’s no accident that even for those who don’t celebrate Shabbat in strict accordance with its precepts, it is nevertheless seen as a day of family togetherness.
On Shabbat, the connection I feel to our Jewish family across the world is really amazing. And it’s not just my own immediate family. There is something comforting, something connecting, knowing that on this day, nearly every Jewish person is acknowledging the Shabbat in some way. Like my grandfather used to say, we’re all Jewish. We’re all family, and Shabbat brings us together as one.
That feeling is real. Yet nothing can stand in for the bond I feel with my own family over Shabbat…
...I’m at my dad’s house, a weekly gathering – my two brothers, my dad and I. We do see each other throughout the week, but not usually all together, so Shabbat is special. The angels are welcomed, wine is spilled over into the bigger cup, and challah is broken. We eat, always starting with soup, creatures of habit that we are. We end off the night with a game, or three, of Rummy. Winnie the Pooh says: “Today is my favorite day.” Shabbat is mine.
Sandy Levenstein is a copywriter and journalist based in Johannesburg.