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Enhancing Homemade Judaism: A Manifesto for Shabbat

Shaping those home celebrations, in particular Shabbat at the table, requires work in preparation, just as they require a structure and routines created by each household.
Noam Zion is a Senior Fellow Emeritus of the Kogod Research Center at the Shalom Hartman Institute since 1978. He studied philosophy and holds degrees from Columbia University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He studied bible and rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and the Hartman Beit Midrash. In the past, he led the Tichon program for North American Jewish educators and he teaches in Hartman Institute rabbinic programs: the Be’eri program
Judaism is made at home, as is the core identity of the individual and the community.
Intuitively we know that Pesach Seder is usually more central to being Jewish than Rosh Hashanah. Lighting candles and making latkes leaves a greater mark than learning about the great historical events of the Maccabees, the Warsaw Ghetto or the Six Day War. Certainly the Shema’s advice about “teaching your children when you sit at home” has an effectiveness unmatched by Hebrew school classes with trained educators. The synagogue is most significant when tied to lifecycle events of the household. If Judaism is to have a renaissance, it will have to be celebrated vibrantly in the home.
However, it is not just the Jewish people and its way of life that requires a renewed concern about enhancing home Judaism. Those weekly and annual rituals have much to contribute to our needs for personal and communal identity in general. In this era of radical individualism, our sense of isolation, our deep existential loneliness, threatens our basic well-being.
As God remarked when first viewing the human being Adam, “It is not good for the human to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18). Human life needs for pragmatic, for emotional and for spiritual reasons, someone to love and by whom to be loved. Relatedness, a covenant with God, with the Creation and with another human being is what gives life meaning. Interdependence, not the “self-made man,” is a vision worth pursuing. God is a matchmaker for significant others and for significant purposes to share with family, friends and community. That is what the way of life of the Torah offers.
The very essence of modern society is that it progressively releases the individual from the vice-like control of strong limits, and the coercion of the bonded group. But instead of being released to freedom, the individual …[lives in isolation, where we cannot depend on each other, and have little faith in ultimate truth…It is total unconnectedness to any social fabric, which is to say, meaninglessness.
To moderns, then, Shabbat is an opportunity for meaning, a moment in time to forge connections and to belong. If Jews will not keep Shabbat on the grounds that they are commanded to do so… perhaps they will do so because keeping Shabbat will provide their otherwise disconnected lives with meaning. – Lawrence A. Hoffman (“The Meaning of Shabbat: A Virtual Domain in Time”by Lawrence A. Hoffman in Broken Tablets edited by Rachel Mikva (Jewish Lights) pgs. 52ff)
For many of us we have succeeded in our careers, forging a somewhat better world and making a name for ourselves. The “six days of labor” are going fairly decently though the work required is ever growing as we conquer new realms. However our leisure time, our downtime, which in fact has increased in days and hours relative to our ancestors, is need of even more “work.”
Paradoxically our day of rest needs an “investment” of “hard labor” to transform it and the home where spend so many hours into quality time. – sacred, nourishing, replenishing quality time. “Holidays” have stopped being holy-days celebrating common values and all-important relationships and become mere “vacations” – empty time free to for planning diversionary activities. However we need not only getaway vacations to leave life behind, to get away from everyone and everybody, but also holy days to renew our connectedness to our inner soul, to our significant others, to our community and its history and its hopes and to God and the beauties of God’s Creation.
Club Med’s marketing department understands the dynamics of Va-Yinafash; they know the difference between “leisure” and “recreation.” Leisure is just “time available;” recreation is a process through which one’s essence (the original creation) is “renewed.” The word Va-Yinafash is rooted in the Hebrew word nefesh which means “soul.” A Club Med vacation is marketed as an opportunity to restore oneself to one’s essence. Shabbat was created as a tool for perpetual self-renewal. The next time you wonder about the value of Shabbat, remember the beach in the Club Med ad. – Joel Lurie Grishaver
Shaping those home celebrations, in particular Shabbat at the table, requires work in preparation just as they require a structure and routines created by each household. Meaning is not a gift of Divine grace but a reward for an investment of self – of time and energy, of aesthetics and delicious tastes.
Literally, we make our own Judaism, and the more we make Shabbats, the more it means to us. Kiddush is an active verb meaning to dedicate, to make sacred, the time of the seventh day. That human intentionality and creativity have the power to evoke Divine blessing on a weekly basis. What we create in celebrating God’s creation is the re-creation of the soul, a recreation both playful and serious.
In contemporary western society individuals are opening themselves anew to journeys of spiritual discovery that require spiritual discipline that gives life structure. These need not be taken alone independent of our households. They need not be ascetic or exotic. We can begin by journeying home to our Jewish sources, by joining with our significant others, by transforming our homes weekly. We can make this celebratory – with good wine, great cooking, sweet melodies and stimulating conversation. Let this Shabbat and festival journey be a growing experience involving ongoing learning and experimentation.
The Mitzvot are divine commands for me both because they have come to be such through the long history of my people and because they speak to my situation as a human being in need of God. I keep the Sabbath …because my personal religious life is enriched immeasurably by the weekly reminder that God is my Maker and the Creator of all. -Louis Jacobs (quoted in Likrat Shabbat, edited by Rabbi Sidney Greenberg, (Media Judaica, Budgeport CT)
User’s Guide
The A Day Apart, Shabbat book, along with its Companion follow on the heels of the A Different Night Haggadah and the A Different Light Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony and storytelling. Many have found the latter books accessible, enjoyable and something that enriches each celebration in new ways every time they are revisited. We believe that the Shabbat books can be equally helpful in enhancing your Shabbat home. To keep the reader and the Shabbat table from being overpowered by large tome, we siphoned off many interesting and short selections to the more substantial Companion volume of resources some directed at the lay reader and some at the Jewish educator and rabbis.
For the lay reader
A festival cycle of blessings, readings, table rituals and table talk follows the same model as A Day Apart, but this time for Rosh Hashana through Shavuot.
Then the Shabbat cycle first introduced in A Day Apart is revisited with many further resources, such as a commentary on the traditional Shabbat Zemirot and on Birkat Hamazon or further inspirational quotes on the value of peacemaking on Shabbat.
Practical advice is offered under the heading, Getting Started. Some sections speak directly to parents of young children and others to synagogue educators. The art of the preparing a D’var Torah can help lead a workshop on giving a Torah talk both at the table and in other contexts.
Explaining the idea of Shabbat in a contemporary and elegant fashion is accomplished in the chapter entitled Making a Case for Celebrating Shabbat On One Leg. Very brief mini-essays provide a vision – often very eloquently expressed – of how Shabbat can lead to greater human fulfillment and continue to a healing process for the one-sidedness of goal-oriented Western life. This provides practical opening speech to learners who seek to introduce Shabbat into their households, justifying it to themselves and those who share their lives and their tables.
Educator’s Guide
The vision of Shabbat empowerment requires that synagogues, schools, Hillels and community centers make “preparing Jews to do Shabbat on their own” a priority. Even though the home is often beyond the purview of institutions attempting to attract Jews out of their homes and into communal spaces, there is no one else to help transform the place where Jews spend most of their leisure time. Reading the excellent sociological study The Jew from Within (selections of which are reprinted here) reinforces the sense that Jews most value the home holiday experiences which only they can lead. Empowerment means making Jews who are often passive and embarrassed to take the lead in synagogues or classes when facing well-educated Jewish professionals feel comfortable to custom-make their own Judaism at home.
Not only basic ritual skills but group process skills are important for them to serve as the amateur “household or family educator” for their Shabbat at home with their significant others at home. Jews from age 13 to 33 often leave formal Jewish institutions and the quality of Shabbat, Pesach and Hanukkah – their most important Jewish experiences – depend on the “training” received earlier. We need offer new resources that must go well beyond remedial adult Jewish education which merely seeks to catch them up on basic Kiddush or candle lighting skills. The A Day Apart set offers resources designed to offer spiritual, intellectual, ritual, activity-based, visual and auditory. Our best-educated Jews have much to learn from these and to keep on growing and learning every time they open its pages. This is the resource offered the Jewish educator to help facilitate the empowerment process.
The Companion guide also speakers directly to those educator-facilitators. The Jewish educator will find much to help teach Shabbat celebration in a synagogue, youth group, school or community center context. For early childhood educators there are short essays by leaders in this field. For those modeling Shabbat table rituals there are ideas for a Shabbat Club and for a communal Friday night dinner. A workshop is proposed for teaching the art of making a dvar Torah – a skill useable not only for the Shabbat table but for every bnai mitzvah child or lay person opening a meeting with w word of Torah. For the musically talented, there is an annotated list of songs and on this basis a cantor may wish to prepare a musical CD of Shabbat songs for home use.
For the educator and rabbi
“Club Shabbos – Reclaiming Shabbat,” by Bill Berk
“Top Tips for Friday Night Dinner at the Synagogue,” by Raphael Zarum
” A Workshop: How to Prepare a D’var Torah ,” by Raphael Zarum
“Parental Guidelines: Shabbat Hints for Families with Young Children,” by Shira Ackerman-Simchovitch
“Shabbat for Young Families,” by Julie Auerbach
“Table Songs and Musical Background for Shabbat,” by Elizabeth Kessler

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