Shabbat Shalom
Tazria-Metzora/6 Iyar 5775
Lev. 12:1-13:39 |III Kings :3-20
This Shabbat, Yoni Siden shares 
Shabbat - the Liminal Space of Obligation and Meaning 

We begin Shabbat with the lighting of candles, the dual flames denoting a separation in time. Rich with meaning and metaphor, the flames create a symbolic barrier which reminds us to step away from the present and enter into a symbolic space - a space as liminal as the flickering light. Shabbat observance, no matter how we interpret the laws and dictates of Torah, asks us to be bountiful in austerity - to see limitations and ritual obligations as the presence of meaning rather than the absence of agency.

When I worked with teenagers at Beth Emet, they often reflected on how powerful it was to step into the 'bountiful austerity' of Shabbat - the quieting of cell phones and the organized prayer and learning. These experiences were not seen as the loss of connection or free time, but rather, the addition of enriching inter- and intra-personal experiences - opportunities to be with the self and others and explore deeper truths. As a partner and mentor, I was deeply moved by their willingness to experience and experiment on Shabbat, and would often tell my friends and colleagues stories of profound poignancy from our Shabbat workshops, t'fillah, and retreats on the next Monday morning. My Shabbats were times of great learning and personal fulfillment - and opportunities to engage in holy work.

When I left Beth Emet last summer, it was with a mix of excitement and sadness. For two years I had not just built relationships and experienced community in a new way, I too had grown spiritually. I had begun to engage in ritual Jewish practice consistently, to contemplate Torah each week, and to work towards social change within a Jewish context. Some changes were obvious and visible - wearing a kippah every day - while others were more nuanced, such as the organic organization of my life around the Jewish calendar. Given that my Judaism had changed so radically when I worked at Beth Emet, how would it change when I left synagogue work for the life of a student? When I left an environment that promoted spiritual life and the pursuit of meaning for one that promoted long hours in the library?

In leaving Beth Emet, I entered into a decade long commitment to pursue medical education, a journey I have only just begun to fill with my pre-med requirements. The past eight months have been intense and profoundly gratifying, and it is hard to imagine this journey without Judaism in my life. Without the opportunity to accept and live within the unknown during prayer. Without the Torah's lessons on humanity and meaning. Without the ordering rituals that provide constancy to a week of chaos and stress. But it, too, has provided incredible challenges, and Shabbat emerged as a fault line early in my transition. What I had once seen as 'bountiful austerity' instead felt as a vice. I felt that I was choking under the expectations, under the stress of removal. The decision to observe Shabbat no longer felt as a choice between running errands on Saturday vs. Sunday, it instead felt as a referendum on my education. I believed deeply that I should not be asked to choose between my religious life and my life's work, but I struggled to understand how to live out my optimism. After all, my Judaism, my pursuit of a more just world, and my desire to pursue medicine are so deeply intertwined, they feel inseparable.

Shabbat now looks different than it did at this time last year, just as it looked different in my life stage before that. I no longer lie in the grass at summer camp on Saturday night listening to music during Havdallah, just as I no longer spend Shabbat talking about life's big questions with teenagers at Beth Emet. Instead, I have sought meaning in new ways, ways that allow me to experience the joy of separation and to exist within a 'space between' but to also pursue work I feel is an expression of my Judaism. Some weeks it is neat, with casual dinners and walks in the park, but most weeks it is messy with flashcards and textbooks and a million tiny negotiations. I have decided on three consistencies, reasonable expectations that can join the joy of meaning with the joy of ritual obligation. Consistencies I cling to each week as I strive to retain a sense of meaning and order. I do not have it all figured out, and I am constantly defining and redefining, but most important, I do not feeling guilty for trying to figure it out instead of having answers. Shabbat is a time to experience the space between, a time to find meaning in repetition and constancy, and a moment to grow within the liminal space of our existence that we so often experience but so rarely allow ourselves to accept. Perhaps the most profound lesson I learned over Shabbatot this past year is not that the Sabbath is an obligation inconsistent with a busy life, but rather that it is an opportunity to examine our priorities and to think deeply about how we can find meaning in the chaos of our circumstances.

YONI SIDEN is a Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Med student at Columbia University in New York City, and is the former Director of Youth Programs at Beth Emet. He grew up as a camper at Habonim Dror Camp Tavor and worked in various staff positions at Camp Miriam where he learned to ask big questions and never be satisfied with simple answers.
Each Friday during 5775, we are 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, April 24
6:30 p.m. (5:45 p.m.  Reception)
Kabbalat Shabbat in the Sanctuary including a D'var Torah by Rabbi Andrea London.
Saturday, April 25
9:30 a.m.  Kahal in the Weiner Room with Torah Reader Aharon Solomon and Torah Discussion Leader Marci Dickman, followed by a vegetarian potluck lunch 

:30 a.m.  
Shabbat Minyan in Room 208 with Torah Discussion Leader Marci Dickman. 
10:30 a.m.  Anna Silverstein Bat Mitzvah in the Sancturay

3:30 p.m.  Beyond Om: Spiritual Practice for the Jewish Soul with Rabbi Andrea London (at her home)
Visit us online at 
Copyright 2014. All Rights Reserved.