a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

I <3 Shabbat

Posted on: May 29, 2011

“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 the holiness in time.”

I looked forward to Friday every day last week.  I had the day off, I had a meeting with Rabbi L.,I had a shul date to visit a Conservative shul, I made plans to share Shabbat dinner with Mirs.  Instead, I was late to shul and spentShabbat dinner in a room full of people I’d met that evening and stayed up talking until past midnight.  This is what Shabbat should be, I thought as I exchanged phone numbers and e-mail addresses with young Jews engaged in their Judaism in a real and powerful way.

Last Monday at HIR a friend of a friend I’d met earlier in the week came up to me and said, “You have to check out my shul.  You’re going to love it!”  Any time someone tells me that I’m going to love their shul and insist that I check it out I listen.  I’m two for two as far as awesome shuls go and three for three for amazing Shabbat dinners.  (Make sure to read One and Two).

I arrived at Kane Street Synagogue, Brooklyn’s oldest synagogue, 15 minutes late.  I had bike troubles that are, unfortunately, still following me around today.  As I locked up my bike, wiped the sweat from my face and smoothed my Kelly green skirt I looked up at the large, slightly imposing building.  I prepared myself to walk into a large cavernous space and instead was told by the gentleman at the door that service was upstairs.  I walked up a single flight of stairs and down a hall into a room where people were already davening.  There were chairs positioned around a central bima and an older gentlemen handed me a transliterated siddur.  

It took me at least five minutes to get comfortable and stop sweating but, by the end of service I felt like myself.  The familar pounding of fists I loved when I visited the Modern Orthodox shul instantly made me feel at home.  The fact that I could actually see made me feel even better.  There wasn’t an organ or opera-like voices that make me want to listen rather than sing.  Rather really wonderful melodies and harmonies, enthusiastic and joyful praying that made me want to join my voice to theirs.  Even though I can only read transliterated Hebrew and take the time to read the English as well, I felt like I knew what was going on.  I felt connected to my Judaism.  After the oneg I called Mirs to meet us for Shabbat dinner.   

“What is the Sabbath?  Spirit in the form of time.  With our bodies we belong to space; our spirit, our souls, soar to eternity, aspire to the holy.  The Sabbath is an ascent to the summit.  It gives us the opportunity to sanctify time, to raise the good to the level of the holy, to behold the holy by abstaining from profanity.”

…I’m actually having a hard time putting the experience into complete sentences.   It was…

captivating

inspiring

moving

queer

motivating

enlightening

challenging

eye-opening

awesome

a blessing

beautiful

joyful

funny

pitch-perfect

“On the eve of the Sabbath the Lord gives man neshamah yeterahNeshamah yeterah means additional spirit…”

It’s the same feeling I had when I left my first two Shabbat dinner experiences.  This feeling of Jewishness that I only feel as intensely on Shabbat at Shabbat dinner.  There is always the awesomeness of being in a space, in someones home, connecting and doing something that hundreds of thousands of millions of people are doing in hundreds of countries in hundreds of languages for thousands of years.  That, even writing that realization, is powerful.  To be part of something that powerful with so much history is truly a blessing.

There was something, too, about being farther along in my Jewish journey and stronger in my convictions in terms of how I want to observe and practice as a Jewish person.  The most powerful thing about the night is the same sense I felt after leaving HIR, after talking with Rabbi Andrea, after talking with Schmekel, after talking to Goldie Goldbloom that is being in a very Jewish space where there are multiple queer folks.  It helps me to realize that the Jewish community that I desire, that I need, that I want is really possible.

“All our life should be a pilgrimage to the seventh day; the thought and appreciation of what this day may bring to us should be ever present in our minds.”

Shabbat was a blessing and a challenge because it’s what I want, what I need.  When Rabbi L and I sat down earlier in the day she asked me how I wanted to observe Shabbat.  She asked me in more reflective way rather than actually needing an answer.  Even out side of going to shul, I told her, I love Shabbat and need Shabbat to reconnect with myself, with my partner.  She, of course, pushed me to reconnect spiritually and Jewishly.  Friday was the answer. 

Tonight, I opened The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel and re-read all of my favorite quotes, some of which I’ve written shared.  If I could capture the feeling of Friday night and put it into a box to carry with me always, I would always have a smile on my face. 

Thank you Rachel for having me in your home!

8 Responses to "I <3 Shabbat"

And it was so wonderful meeting you at a Shabbat meal! AJ Heschel’s book “The Sabbath” is what inspired me 3 years ago to start keeping Shabbes // reclaiming Judaism.

Awesome meeting you, Nomi! I love “The Sabbath” I read it over and over again highlighting and underlining along the way

i love kabbalat shabbat at kane street, and am happy to go with you whenever, if you want shabbat services company. those services are also part of what made me inspired to have a very regular shabbat service attendance (now i prefer to go to both kabbalat shabbat and saturday torah service). i love how accessible and active the kabbalat services at kane are.

YES! I plan on attending as much as my work schedule permits. I’m going home this weekend but we have an overdue coffee date.

so true! let’s make it happen. i’m in philly this weekend, but around basically allllllllllll the time. i’m very much looking forward to it!

YES! I’m heading home tomorrow. My schedule is all over the place but yes, let’s work something out!

Thank you so much you these kind words! I am looking forward to spending many more Shabbats with you.

No, thank YOU! Seriously, I had the most amazing time and would love nothing more than to spending many more Shabbats with you! It was truly amazing and I feel so lucky to have you as a friend.

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