Shabbat Shalom
Shabbat Vayishlach/ 13 Kislev  5775
Genesis 34:4-33:20 / Hosea 11:7-12:12

This Shabbat, Bekki Harris Kaplan shares
Make Shabbat Your Own

When I was growing up, the very word "Shabbat" felt a bit much to know in order to observe. Services were conducted in Hebrew; so many prayers and so much swaying-led from a Siddur (prayer book) with little instruction. Home observance was confusing; trying to discern what was permissible and what was prohibited----much of which never really made sense. Running the dishwasher on Shabbat was okay, but laundry was not. Huh? And there were the elaborate Shabbat dinners that my mom would labor to make...and with bewilderment and awe I wondered if I would ever be able to pull off such a feat when I grew up. Indeed when I was young, Shabbat meant prohibition, religiosity....and responsibility. I knew at my core that I loved Shabbat, the very essence of Shabbat, but how would I make it my own?


Now as an adult and through my own journey of discovering and figuring out how best to observe, I find that it is not the rules that shape my beliefs, but rather it's the emphasis on the social that has transformed my Shabbat. An opportunity to come together as a community----whether it be at services, Shabbat dinners, study, or even simply finding that rare availability of time to visit a friend----all of which offers us an opportunity to come together as a community to celebrate, connect, reflect, rejuvenate. With this, I believe, Shabbat cuts to the core of Jewish values and could be considered perhaps a primary distinguishing element from other religions. To quote Abraham Joshua Heschel, "Shabbat is a day of praise, not a day for petitions." 


For those of us who seek to deepen our own Jewish engagement and strengthen communal bonds, we need not look further than Shabbat. Of course I'm biased to the role synagogues play in Shabbat observance, but I also very much appreciate other ways in which to celebrate such as a Shabbat dinner----social connections, spiritual engagements, and intellectual debate...all key elements that we seek as Jews.


When my boyfriend, now husband, and I moved to Chicago in our early 20's, we did not have a Jewish community in which we felt comfortable. In my quest to figure out how we wanted to live Jewishly, I connected with a few young-ish Jewish communal colleagues and together we created Shabbas for a Novice for 20/30-somethings. Recognizing that there were others like us who did not have family but valued Shabbat dinners as a key part of our Jewish selves, we created opportunities around the Chicago area for Jewish nomads to come together once a month. Not knowing what to expect we naively placed one ad in the Chicago Reader, and next thing we knew we had more than 200 coming for dinner, and then even more in subsequent months...a success beyond our wildest imagination. Clearly we had struck gold----especially among a demographic that the organized Jewish community was eager to reach, but not serving well.   


In those moments I felt profoundly and intimately Jewish, and it was then that Idecided to pursue a profession in the Jewish communal world. What I saw was how Shabbat brought my peers together within a traditional context for celebration, eating, learning, and socializing, and I saw the potential a Shabbat dinner could have to reconnect those who may otherwise be lost to Judaism.


With good cause, I understand why Shabbat is the only ritual included in the Ten Commandments.  Not only is it a cherished, much needed time to set aside the working world, the secular world to rest, reflect, enjoy, eat and relax, but it is a time to spend as a Jew in whatever way one chooses.  Make Shabbat your own.  Each week we are given the gift to create it in our own way that's most appropriate to where we are that week. Indeed it truly is a gift. Looking back at my own childhood, my most fond memories are being with family and friends on Shabbat----whether curled up with my Dad in his tallit at services, being with others from our small Jewish community huddled in the rabbi's house for Shabbat lunches, or with friends at youth group conventions. As I prepare for this Shabbat, I think about Eytan, my son, who is spending Shabbat with his peers at a youth group Shabbaton----the same Shabbaton I attended at his age. I'm so happy to know that a bit of the Shabbat spirit I have felt, has been passed along.


Shabbat Shalom, and may you experience that same joy that Shabbat can bring to your life.


Bekki Harris Kaplan celebrates Shabbat each and every week at Beth Emet, where she has served as the Executive Director since 2001.  You'll find her in the Foyer, greeting people.... which is one of her most favorite ways in which to usher in Shabbat.  Although she's staff, she very much considers Beth Emet to be her spiritual home as well.... as does her family, husband, Dan, and kids, Hannah and Eytan.  Bekki hails from West Lafayette, Indiana - home of some of the earliest Shabbat memories.

Each Friday during 5775, we will be featuring writings from you, our congregants, sharing reflections on Shabbat. We hope you will be inspired to share your reflections with the community. If you are interested in contributing to this project, please contact Stacey Zisook Robinson
This Shabbat at Beth Emet

Friday, December 5
5:45 p.m.
Wine and cheese reception

6:30 p.m. 
Kabbalat Shabbat Services with Musician-in-Residence Peri Smilow. 
Peri Smilow is a nationally recognized contemporary Jewish music artist who uses her music to spread a message of tikkun olam. Join Peri in one of her first appearances in the Chicago area. Sing your way through Shabbat. Elevate your soul.

Musician-in-Residence, Peri Smilow, is made possible by Doug and Becky Hoffman and the Spiritual Music Fund of the Beth Emet Foundation.

Saturday, December 6
9:30 a.m.
Kahal Worship in the Weiner Room with Torah Reader Hyma Levin and
Torah Discussion Leader Marci Dickman.
Shabbat Minyan in Room 208. Torah Discussion Leader Marci Dickman.

Sunday, December 7
1:00 p.m.
Bring signs, bring friends, bring your prayers. Requested text for signs are listed on our Facebook page (link above).
Visit us online at 
Copyright 2014. All Rights Reserved.