Thursday, September 18, 2014 Elul 23, 5774

Warming Up to Shabbat

February 18, 2010
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What better time to reflect on the warm and welcoming embrace of Shabbat than during this year's record-setting, snow-infused winter?

As our cover story this week illustrates, introductions to Shabbat rituals and experiences are all the rage in our area, from a "Shabbat U" at Beth Am Israel in Penn Valley to "A Taste of Shabbat" at Congregation Ohev Shalom in Wallingford. While the planners of these programs couldn't possibly have forecast this year's winter wonderland -- or headache, depending on how you view it -- their timing was impeccable.

Shabbat, of course, comes each week, no matter the season. That is part of its beauty -- a consistent respite from the mundane and hectic pace that generally rules the rest of our lives.

As the revered Jewish thinker Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel so aptly put it: "The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time."

The recently released 2009 Jewish Population Study of Greater Philadelphia found that just a fraction -- 18 percent -- of all Jewish households in the five-county region report lighting the Sabbath candles regularly, a standard barometer of observance. Among the inmarried, the number is 27 percent. Not surprisingly, broken down by denomination, 55 percent of homes describing themselves as Orthodox report lighting candles, 30 percent of Conservative, 26 percent of Reconstructionist, 20 percent of secular and 10 percent of Reform.

Orthodox Jews, as a whole, know best what it means to rejoice and relax in the spirit of Shabbat. The blessings, the rituals, the prayers and the fellowship come naturally to a community for whom Shabbat is a central part of Jewish observance, the fulfillment of the Fourth Commandment to "Remember the Sabbath."

But not everyone finds such easy access to Shabbat rituals. We can lament the fact that, after thousands of years of Shabbat serving as the glue for our survival, we are still having to teach the ins and outs of its meaning. Or we can acknowledge that such is where we are today as a people -- and welcome the abundance of Shabbat learning and creativity that will enrich our community and contribute to a new cadre of knowledgeable Jews.

We can celebrate, too, the obvious thirst to reclaim our weekly holiday, as evidenced by the thousands of people who are not letting a little inclement weather interfere with their desire to embrace new practices.

So if you're not already a regular Shabbat observer, this Friday evening or possibly next, buy a challah and a bottle of Manischewitz. Then light some candles. Not because your power went out, but because it's Shabbat -- a wonderful way to light up the end of one week and pause before looking ahead to another.

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