Observing Shabbat: My weekly day of rest

A student reflects on her traditional observance of the weekly Jewish holiday.

Six days of the week, I navigate college life at full speed, balancing work, classes and extracurriculars. 

I say six days because on Saturday I take a complete day of rest. 

I choose to observe Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, for a full day each week. As a senior at Temple University, I’d be lying if I said has always been easy. 

It is hard to say no to seeing my favorite band on Friday night or miss out on dinner in Center City with friends. But, since I took on this tradition roughly 12 years ago, it has become the one closest to my heart.

Shabbat begins with sundown on Friday night and ends roughly an hour after sundown on Saturday. It is traditionally calculated by the presence of three stars in the sky. Observance of the day can mean many things to many people, but I choose to follow the traditional observances of the day. This includes “negative commandments” of the day, refraining from certain actions, like using electricity, driving or riding in any vehicle, personally purchasing goods, writing or drawing. At school, this means I do not use my computer to write papers or to copy down notes for a test. 

Together, the observances of Shabbat relate to the story of creation: G-d worked and created six days of the week, and on the seventh day, he rested. On Shabbat, we refrain from constitute actions of “creation,” which throughout the other days of the week are not only permitted but also encouraged if they may help someone. 

Six days of the week, we are tasked with “Tikkun Olam,” or “repairing the world.” This can mean helping our friends and neighbors and performing small acts of kindness to bring a little light into the world. 

When Shabbat begins, a bubble of rejuvenation expands around me. This is created by the amazing feeling of reprieve from apps, messages and emails all vying for my attention, and the mindset that I have set this day aside to rest. 

While I come from a traditional Jewish family, I did not practice the full, traditional observance of Shabbat while growing up. I decided to practice a more traditional observance of Shabbat around the time of my bat mitzvah. One of my brothers had begun to experiment with different traditions, and I was curious, too. Joining him for walks to synagogue was anything but a chore. I decided that observing the “negative” commandments was a positive experience.

Some of my friends and family traditionally commemorate Shabbat through customs like Friday night dinner. My immediate family recognizes the importance of Shabbat, but the specific traditions we chose to observe varies from person to person.

I never label people who uphold different customs than me as “bad Jews.” With the exception of those who choose to convert — whose souls we actually believe have always been part of the Jewish people — Judaism is something you are born into. As a explore my own faith, I know it is not something so easily changed as clothing. Jewish and non-Jewish people alike are in different stages of our personal journeys, with different goals. 

When a friend goes out of their way to include me on Shabbat, their acceptance of my traditions are meaningful. I’m lucky to have both Jewish and non-Jewish friends who remember there are certain times I won’t be available and certain things I will not do. I do not take this for granted, because it is not a given.

In a world where religious people can be seen as fanatics or imposing ideas on others, my observance of Shabbat is sometimes met with resistance. I have had peers think I am purposely being difficult or receiving special treatment for classes. I learned when to be open about this part of myself and when to be more discreet. Generally, my peers accept and support my traditions and remind me that it is OK to be different and make my own choices.

This tradition is part of who I am. I look forward to shutting down my phone at sundown on Fridays. Once Shabbat starts, I can feel a warm blanket descend around me. I take a deep breath and my shoulders relax. The next 25 hours could include dinner and lunch with friends or relaxing at home with family. For one day each week, I am allowed to let my mind, body and spirit rest and rejuvenate.

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