‘It’s not my thing,” my daughter Talia, who just turned 8, politely informed me on more than one Saturday this winter, when I tried to lure her to synagogue with promises of alone time with me, and the opportunity to wear party clothes.
Eventually, I gave up. We went to the library. Or the toy store. And, I shelved away That Thing — a more traditional Jewish Saturday — for another, more auspicious time, along with other “things” that I desire, but also don’t quite want, like a third child and a larger, but expensive apartment.
One day, in the distant but not unforeseeable future, I would find a way to rejoice in the Sabbath more fully with family, to bask for a few hours longer in the radiance we already experience on Friday nights, when our Shabbat celebration begins — and often ends. After all, I reasoned, I myself am not completely at ease with the sacrifices involved in Saturday observance. I’m particularly reluctant to skip brunch at our local Cuban eatery, where the coffee is sweetened by the company of friends and where Jeremy, my husband, never wears the sour, dour expression that tends to flicker across his face as he searches for meaning in the siddur.
And so I was delighted to learn about a modern interpretation of Shabbat that wouldn’t involve me dragging resistant family members to the pews: “A Day of Unplugging,” designed by Reboot, a nonprofit group of Jewish artists. Observers could “replenish their souls” by avoiding technology and commerce, by drinking wine, lighting candles and spending time outside, according to Reboot’s “Sabbath Manifesto.”
On a typical Friday evening, I’m not always in a festive mood. Talia and I tend to quarrel even as we prepare to light the candles. But on my first unplugged night, I felt sated even before my first bite of challah. I wasn’t just preparing to welcome the Sabbath bride — I was that bride, at last ready to consummate her love for a more traditional Shabbat.
As always, I kissed my dear ones after candle lighting, whispering to each a “Shabbat Shalom.” I noticed that Jeremy’s forehead seemed a tad warm, but it didn’t dampen my exuberance, until he said, “You know what you want to do when you’re sick?
“Sleep?” I asked, wondering if we should make haste to the dinner table.
“And what else?”
“Soup?” I ventured, easing the children toward the table again.
“Yes, but what else?”
“Sleep some more?” I asked, anxiety creeping into my voice.
Jeremy shook his feverish head and smiled wanly. “You want to watch TV more than anything else.”
That night, Jeremy and I both fell asleep before he could reach for the remote controls. But before that, as I cleared the table and scrubbed at a stubborn grape juice stain on our Shabbat tablecloth, I found my fingers itching to call someone, to distract me from my boredom. When I remembered the phone was off limits, my thoughts turned to e-mail. Though the desire didn’t exert itself with the force of my occasional chocolate addiction, I wanted what some have called “a hit” — a tech connection.
On Saturday morning, my joy resurfaced. Jeremy and I strolled behind our children, savoring the sunshine in Riverside Park, admiring their scootering skills. Joel stopped to smell the daffodils. Talia, a small figure off in the distance, grinned at her new athletic ability.
The afternoon passed in an even more leisurely fashion. I slept. I walked. I spotted the first blooms of a cherry tree. I played not one, but three, games with my children. I smiled smugly as I read Judith Shulevitz’s new book, “The Sabbath World,” in which she writes “if there’s one thing we know about everyday life, it’s that we don’t have enough time to finish our work and get our chores done and be with family and friends.”
And when it was time for Havadalah, the ritual felt intertwined with the day in a manner I seldom experience. Jeremy and I giggled as Joel, in the style of an a cappella singer, swayed his snapping fingers, and recited the blessings over the braided candle.
My serene mood, alas, vanished along with the flames. “Wasn’t this day so nice?” I pronounced, still in a state of dreamy wonder. Jeremy eyed me warily. He wasn’t ready to commit. n
“All She Wrote” appears the second week of the month.
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