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Sharing Shabbat With My Non-Religious (and Patient) Husband

March 20, 2009

I can't remember exactly when I decided to become more religious. I didn't grow up in a very religious household. My parents kept kosher at home, although treif foods were "allowed" on paper plates in our basement in front of the television.

The fact is, I never learned to integrate my Jewish high school learning into everyday adult living, and the lessons from home left me feeling confused and detached from my religion.

Hannah Dayan
Hannah Dayan has been on a spiritual journey and has felt blessed to bring her husband with her. Photo: Shirley Bittner, Bittner Designs.

Two years ago, I was rushed into emergency surgery for a ruptured ulcer. Being faced with my own mortality, I realized that life was short and should be lived entirely with meaning. Self-help books didn't have the answer I was looking for and neither did Oprah or Dr. Phil. In time, my spirituality evolved from The Secret to the Torah.

My husband of almost five years, who isn't Jewish, and certainly not religious (When I was curious about midnight Mass a couple of years ago, I had to beg him to take me and he fell asleep!), didn't think this would eventually be part of the marriage deal. Our wedding was a non-denominational, G-d-is-mentioned type of ceremony, and he broke a glass for a little bit of Jewish tradition just for me. We light Hanukkah candles together (on the menorah my mother-in-law gave us as a wedding gift), and have gone to a few Rosh Hashanah dinners. This was the extent of any sense of Jewishness in this household. It is safe to say that I lived a more assimilated type of Jewish life, which isn't shocking considering my upbringing.

As I don't have any family in Canada, this mixed-married life felt very one-sided. I felt that I "had to" celebrate the non-Jewish holidays with my in-laws. I use the term celebrate loosely, as it was more about family getting together. But we do acknowledge the holiday itself. I never celebrated my own holidays. Eventually, I suppose, I rebelled. I needed to be able to express myself as the Jewish woman that I am.

My journey to becoming Shabbat-observant started at Sukkot last year. I found out about a local Jewish organization (JET, Jewish Education through Torah), whose mission is to get Jewish people to do something Jewish, even if it is only a little bit. My husband and were invited to their couples sukkah party. I signed up for their class on prayer and started to daven every morning.

We also started attending the JET Shabbat dinners. There was something so very holy about the weekly event. I wanted in. It started with lighting some candles and turning off the phone and the computer for the day. I wanted to see if I would go through withdrawal symptoms from the lack of email and Facebook. I managed to survive. Eventually my Shabbat turned into a ritual of preparing the slow cooker, taping the fridge light, storing hot water in a thermos and refraining from using the lights or the car. In other words, my Shabbat became--Shabbat.

Every Friday night, I read the kiddush and break the challah to share with my husband. As he stands by me, I am thankful to Hashem to have been blessed to be married to such a patient and understanding man.

My husband is amazingly supportive during Shabbat (and all Jewish rituals for that matter). Since I can't use the electrical appliances during Shabbat, he likes to ensure my comfort by cooking for me and turning on lights. I am pretty sure Jewish law doesn't allow this and I could choose not to eat what he prepares or to walk out of the room he so graciously illuminated for me. There is however, Shalom Bayit--the Jewish concept of "peace in the home"--to maintain in this mixed marriage, and I certainly can't ignore his way of showing his love and support for me.

Shabbat has become pretty special for us. We play backgammon together. I read and he plays on the laptop.

We live out in the countryside, away from a Jewish community, so Shabbat can get a little lonely when my husband does decide to go out. We are often invited to spend Shabbat with Jewish friends in the city. We compromise on spending the night, and in the morning he can leave, and he comes and picks me up after Shabbat is over after sunset. We share a beautiful Shabbat dinner with friends, and he gets some "boy time" on Saturday. We have also agreed to do these sleepovers only once a month.

A mixed marriage is a lot about compromise and communication. There has to be a little bit of give and take, understanding, and of course talking about how we feel about things.

Shabbat ends, again with my husband by my side. He holds the candle for me while I recite the blessings. He wishes me "Shavuah Tov" as we celebrate the new week.

Hebrew for "Head of the Year," the Jewish New Year. With Yom Kippur, known as the High Holy Days. Hebrew for "a good week," a typical greeting on Saturday night, after Havdalah, as the new week starts. Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods. A bread that comes in a few different varieties; its most common variation is a braided egg bread, though there are water challahs that don't have eggs, and there are whole-wheat challahs which sometimes also don't have eggs. It is customary to being Sabbath and holiday meals by saying blessings and eating challah. Hebrew for "sanctification," a blessing recited over wine or grape juice to sanctify the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. Hebrew for "candelabrum" or "lamp," it usually refers to the nine-branched candelabrum that is lit for the holiday of Hanukkah. (A seven-branched candelabrum, a symbol of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, is a symbol of Judaism and is included in Israel's coat of arms.) The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. Hebrew for "The Name." Used as a substitute for the Hebrew name for God, which religious Jews are forbidden from uttering outside of prayer. ("This lovely dinner was provided by HaShem - and the Goldsteins!" or "If, HaShem willing, we arrive safely...") Hebrew for "fit" (as in, "fit for consumption"), the Jewish dietary laws. Hebrew for "booth," a temporary hut constructed for use during the week-long Jewish holiday of Sukkot ("booths"). Hebrew for "Booths," it's a fall holiday marking the harvest, like a Jewish Thanksgiving, complete with opportunities for dining and sleeping under the stars. Yiddish for "prayer," it's often used as a verb in English. ("I'm going to daven Saturday morning.") The first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or the scroll that contains them. Hebrew term for that which is not kosher (in accordance with Jewish dietary law). Common treif foods include shellfish and pig products (ham, bacon, etc.). Also, food or meals that combine dairy and meat products are treif. God. In traditional Jewish circles, it is forbidden to write or say God's full Hebrew name. This custom has carried over into English by some, who write "God" without the vowel (o) and replace it with a hyphen. Some use variations of this, such as G!d or G@d.
Chana-Esther Dayan

Chana-Esther Dayan lives in Ottawa, Canada, with her husband of five years. She is learning to integrate her Jewish faith in her daily living in a mixed marriage. Since there are no real rules, Hannah and her husband are learning as they go.

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