Natalie Portman's Directorial Debut & Paper Towns' Nat WolffBy Gerri Miller
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It was what sold me on Judaism in the first place. Shabbat represented family harmony, elevating common everyday things to a sacred level. Taking a whole day, an evening and night and the whole next day to just appreciating what you have. Preparing a big dinner, taking a quiet moment to light the candles and thank God for the food and the light and the family in front of you, spending the next day partially with community, and partly with just family… It was the first thing about Judaism that felt like it was mine, the first thing that made me feel like I wasn’t just doing it for someone else, this was what I wanted. For me, for my husband, and for my kids. It’s the foundation for me, it’s what keeps me grounded in Judaism. I don’t speak Hebrew or Yiddish, the emphasis on the Torah is sometimes confusing to me – but Shabbat, Shabbat I understand. Shabbat brings me back, week after week, to what I want most for my life.
So why is it so hard?
I think it’s a function of my life right now. I’m essentially alone with all three kids all week long. My husband works so much, and the hours are so brutal. I’m achingly aware, all the time, of his absence and how much the kids miss him. How much I miss him. And how much EASIER it is when he’s home. Just having another adult in the house, someone to answer the questions or pay attention or help with homework, even just someone to pour me a cup of coffee when I’m too busy to do it myself.
Friday night comes and goes, and he’s not here. I’m trying to make an effort to at least light the candles with the kids, but last night’s dinner was beans and hot dogs. I put my toddler, Julianna, to bed, and then my ten year old daughter, Jessica, conked out on my bed next to her. Sam, my almost seven year old, was rocking and rolling until Marc came home around nine thirty or so. He ended up falling asleep on the couch while poor Marc ate leftovers after everyone else was sleeping.
This morning – I was just irritated. The house was in shambles, coffee wasn’t made. Julie was up at the crack of dawn, followed almost immediately by the other two. The kids were battling, Julie was exhausted and screaming, literally screaming whenever something didn’t go her way. Nothing went her way. And I yelled at Marc until he finally left the house just to escape.
I drove to the synagogue, in no mood for any kind of spiritual activities at all, but Julie loves it so I went. Dragging a reluctant Sam, because he wanted to stay home and color. Jessie had gone to my in-laws for a visit, so I just had the two little ones. They did not behave in an exemplary fashion, and at one point, I had to lean over and hiss in Julie’s ear “If you don’t stop right now, we won’t come again.” That’s right, I threatened to take away Shabbat if she couldn’t behave. Stellar parenting right there.
As I was driving home, still aggravated and feeling put upon and stressed out, I grumbled to myself that I don’t like Shabbat. I was thinking it’s too close to the work week, there’s too much stress and pressure and I need a day to decompress before I can really relax and appreciate my life. But Julie piped up from the back about how much she LOVES Shabbat, she get to see Ellen and Aviva and Abi and Tali at the kids service, and challah and grape juice. I thought for a minute or two, but even after that, I was still crabby and unpleasant.
Then I got a brief window of time, went out all by myself. Marc took the kids and they let me go without too many tears. For a brief period of time, I was able to just… be. Just exist. Do what I wanted, go where I wanted to go. So I got take out chinese, and went to get books. Of course. And I felt better.
Maybe a whole day for Shabbat is just out of reach for me at this point. Maybe all I can manage is a few minutes, here and there. I did light the candles last night, and Julianna, oddly enough, can recite the blessings by herself. I didn’t know that until last night. And Jessica cleaned the house while I was gone earlier and had a tea party with Crabbianna to keep her occupied. On my way back, I picked up Sam and brought him shopping with me, and we picked out dessert for tonight.
Maybe Shabbat is found in little pockets of time that I manage to cull out of my life these days, maybe I should try harder to find them during the week. Moments like yesterday afternoon when Sammy sang on stage, and last night when my Jessie snuggled up next to me like she was a little girl and fell asleep that way. Moments when Marc loves me despite the fact that I yelled at him until he left, rather than fight back with me, because clearly I was too irritable to have a rational discussion.
Maybe I need to rethink Shabbat. Just a little. Just for a while. Because there’s opportunity for holiness everywhere, and gratitude and solace and harmony. There are moments, every day, I just need to be more present and aware of them. Maybe I need to focus more on trying to have a little of it every day, instead of resenting the fact that I can’t have a whole day of concentrated Shabbat-ness.
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