August 10, 2011
Six years ago, before I met my wife, the only Jewish experience that I had was spreading cream cheese over an 'everything' flavored bagel. Even worse, I was unaware that the bagel was even considered Jewish. As naïve as it sounds, on our second date I made my wife a Jamaican-jerk pork chop dinner. She's not a 'no pork' kind of woman. She partakes in bacon here and there, but never a pork chop. Not wanting to hurt my feelings, she ate it, only to suffer with a stomachache later that evening... now that is devotion. Needless to say, my understanding of Judaism has increased significantly since then.
I began my Jewish learning by asking my wife a lot of questions. Our friends invited us to celebrate the many Jewish holidays with them. This introduced me to a new intimacy with Judaism. My wife encouraged me to learn even more, so we took a few courses offered by the Union for Reform Judaism. One of the many things that I find interesting about Judaism is that it is both a religion and culture that are nearly impossible to separate. Since I have a strong interest in learning about cultures, I was naturally drawn to learning about Jewish rituals. The Jewish people have practiced these rituals for thousands of years.
Although I have not chosen to become Jewish, we have decided to have a Jewish home. Many interfaith families choose to blend traditions from both partners. We have incorporated Judaism into our home through artwork and by celebrating Jewish holidays. One of my favorite holidays is Shabbos, Shabbat, or however else you may spell it. Just like the various spellings of Jewish holidays and words, there are different ways of making Judaism a part of our lives. Shabbos dinner at our house is an example of what works for us.
I latched onto Shabbos immediately. I found it very accessible and easily integrated into my life. Two challenges that I experienced in celebrating Shabbos were the Hebrew prayers and the feeling of being different.
I overcame the first challenge by learning the customary prayers for lighting the Shabbos candles, wine and bread. When available, I like to have access to a prayer book with the transliteration. If I get lost in the prayer, I simply hum the tune if I know it — no one seems to notice. I find the message in the prayers very meaningful. They describe being grateful for the basic necessities of life: food, drink, family and community.
The second challenge was managing my own insecurities around feeling different. Overcoming these feelings allowed me to welcome the warmth of my friends and new acquaintances. I have discovered that Shabbos does not mean you must go to synagogue, have a rabbi present, serve Challah, drink kosher wine, wear yarmulkes or speak Hebrew. Shabbos is setting time aside to celebrate with family and friends by recognizing that moment in time as special. Since the arrival of our son Solomon, Shabbos has become even more special. It's the beginning of his Jewish learning and identity.
For me, Shabbat also symbolizes the closing of the week. I take time to enjoy family, friends and a warm meal. A Shabbos dinner at our house has all the traditional elements. Challah or an alternative loaf of bread (Seeduction from Whole Foods is one of my favorites) placed on the Challah plate, glasses filled with wine and two lit candles. The bread and wine symbolize the basic necessity of food and drink; without them life cannot exist. The bread is more than just nourishment. The pieces or slices make up the entire loaf, as the individuals around the table make up the Shabbos celebration. The wine is more than just a drink. It accompanies the end of the workweek and brings with it an evening of rest and enjoyment. Candlelight relaxes and warms the environment. Friends and family around the table signify the community around us. Lastly, plates full of food (personally, I enjoy a spicy curry) complete our Shabbos dinner table.
As you can see, there's no wrong way to roll on Shabbos. It is important to incorporate the traditions in a way that works for you. Do not worry about getting it right the first time. You will make it as good a Shabbos as any by simply enjoying the food, drink and company.