Shabbat Shalom
Shabbat Bo / 3 Sh'vat 5775
Exodus 10:1-11:3 | Jeremiah 46:13-28

This Shabbat, Dina Elenbogen shares 
My Evolving Shabbat
 

Most of my adult life I've strived toward the perfect Sabbath: a place of true peace, respite, prayer and song; a potential return to the essence of self, holiness and connection with community.

When I was a child growing up in Skokie, Shabbat brought us together as a family but often separated us from community. My Yiddishe grandmother, who lived with us until I was nine, cleaned with a vengeance, chopped liver with a grinder, pounded flour into challah, mandlebreit, and poppy seed cookies. On Shabbat morning she sang Russian and Yiddish songs with her sisters. These smells and sounds were not pouring out of the other secular Jewish or non-Jewish homes on Kolmar Street. Our friends and neighbors celebrated the coming of the weekend at football games, restaurants, dance halls.

When I gleefully left my stagnant suburb for college in Indiana, I began to miss what I had thought I wanted to get away from. During my first semester, I sought after fellow Jews whom I eventually found in my Literature of the Holocaust class. We soon gathered at each other's tables some Friday nights, bringing our own traditions and recipes. These gatherings, sometimes followed by guitar playing and singing, gave me a sense of family and brought me back to a deep part of myself that I hadn't realized was so important.

In graduate school in Iowa City, I again felt a lack of Sabbath.  Friday nights in bars or at poetry readings felt incomplete, far away from the ideal Shabbat that I had begun to conjure up in my mind. Then one day, at the Great Midwestern Ice Cream Shop, a Jewish fiction writer (I was in poetry) told me she was gathering Jews -- in a good way -- and did I want to join them for Shabbat?  That Sabbath and the Sabbath meals that followed that summer, were among the few places I felt truly at home in Iowa. Many of those who gathered around the table, helped bring me back to that essential part of myself.

A year later, in Israel, I didn't have to look for Shabbat - again she found me. In the religious communities where I lived, Jerusalem and Ma'alot, my Shabbat experiences allowed me to get closer to my ideal Sabbath, instead of connecting me to the past. Cities stopped with the Shabbat siren and everything was bathed in a soft golden light. The prayer for the angels, Shalom Aleichem, poured from the windows of so many homes. Especially in Ma'alot, I sat around tables with friends and strangers, banging our fists to the Sephardic melody of Dror Yiqra. Shabbat morning, either in shul or at the sea, the spirit of Shabbat stayed, allowing me to slow down and connect with community and the Divine.

Back in Chicago in my twenties, I tried to replicate the ideal Sabbath I had found in Israel. There were moments when the holiness from above seemed to merge with the holiness from below but they were rare moments. As one of my friends from Israel had put it: There is no place for Shabbat in America- we'd just dirty her up.

I've since learned that there is a place for Shabbat in America. When I married and had a family, and began to build my life in Evanston, Shabbat became sacrosanct. Sometimes closer to my ideal, more often not, yet always a place of return to holiness, wholeness of self, family and community.

When my mother died when I was the mother of an eight-month-old baby, Shabbat became our Kaddish; it became the way my father, sister, husband, daughter and I checked in with each other and paused from mourning to also feel the light of Sabbath Candles.

When my son was born, we took early Shabbat morning walks along the lake, him strapped to my body and later attached to my husband in his green and orange Bjorn, as they joined the Beth Emet Kahal for prayer.

Now we celebrate sometimes with our family of four, walk (or drive) to friends' homes for the Sabbath meal, welcome others into our home, and then join with Kahal on Shabbat morning. Both our children have led the community in prayer and have chanted Torah for their Bnai Mitzvah. We are blessed with a rich and spirited community that adds many flavors to our observance. As our children grow older with competing demands, Sabbath becomes even more essential, especially Friday night dinner, a respite from a busy week that often separates us from each other.

There are still glimpses of the perfect Sabbath-- sometimes on our return visits to Israel, watching the sun set in the Mediterranean or gathering with friends in mostly quiet cities, and in Florence last summer when we stood with Jews from all over the world singing the same tune of Shalom Aleichem in the Courtyard of the Great Synagogue.

But most of the time I no longer try to create the perfect Sabbath.  I invite her into our lives, notice as she envelopes me and my family, and gather others under our tallitot of peace. She joins us at the table as we pause from our hectic lives, bless the wine and challah and share a good meal.  It has become a comfortable, essential and integral part of our lives.  I struggle to keep that peace, to carry it with me into the crowded and noisy week that follows. But when I lose it to the demands of work, difficult people and negotiating family life, I draw comfort from knowing we will meet again as the sun sets next Friday.

Dina Elenbogen is the author of the poetry collection Apples of the Earth, (Spuyten Duyvil, NY) and the memoir Drawn from Water: An American Poet, an Ethiopian Family, an Israeli Story (BKMK Press, University of Missouri). She teaches creative writing at the University of Chicago Graham School. She and her husband Steve Siegel and their children Sarina and Ilan are long time members of Beth Emet.  You can see more of Dina and her work on her website, www.dinaelenbogen.com.

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, January 23
6:30 p.m. 
Shabbat Shira with Cantor Arik Luck
 
Saturday, January 24
9:30 a.m. Kahal Worship in the Weiner Room with Torah Reader Rebecca Raus and Torah Discussion Leader Toby Manewith. 

9:30 a.m.  Minyan in Room 208
 
10:30 a.m. 
Shabbat Service and Tu b'Shvat Celebration For Families That Include Members Who Have Special Needs
Experience the joy of Shabbat and celebrate the upcoming holiday of 
Tu b'Shvat in a sensory friendly, "no-hush" atmosphere of acceptance and joy. 

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