Shabbat Shalom
Sh'Lach L'cha |26 Sivan 5775
Num. 13:1-14:7 | Joshua 2:1-24
This Shabbat, Nina Kavin shares
More than I have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept me
(paraphrased from Ahad Ha'am)

I went to a Jewish day school in a segregated society. My childhood world was tiny, and from my vantage point the vast majority of South Africans were Jewish except for the Africans, the postman, and the milkman (they were Afrikaaners)*. As far as I knew, most of the world stopped on Friday night. Shabbat was a given in my life; an immutable fact. It was heralded weekly by the fiery African sunset, and in winter by a crisp chill and the scent of veld fires. It was fun and food and friends and family. It was the exclamation mark at the end of the week's run-on sentence.

I can quickly conjure up the essence of the Friday nights when my parents, sister, aunts, uncles and cousins gathered at my granny Esther and grandpa Jack's small flat in Observatory, Johannesburg: the old-people-gefilte-fish-chicken-soup-kreplach aroma as the door opened; the candles, warm challah, white tablecloth and warbled brachot; the whiff of my grandpa's whiskey; the seamless see-saw of adult conversation between Yiddish and English; the after-dinner cousin-giggling sessions on my grandparents bed; the collection of family photos under the glass on my granny's dressing table that I studied carefully each time we visited.

On other Friday nights, we'd eat at home. Candles, challah, quick blessings and a good meal. Often, my friend Barbi would come for Shabbat and sleep over or I'd head to her house. Starting in 1976, South Africa "got" TV (that year, South Africa also got the Soweto Riots, but that is a different essay), so we'd couch-cuddle and watch The Brady Bunch or Hazel while we waited for dinner. At Barbi's house, their gardener, Jan, would change into his crisp white suit with a red sash to serve the meal. It was a pretty formal affair. Barbi's parents were atheists, I think. They had candles and challah, but we didn't say the blessings at Barbi's house.

In August 1977, my life and Shabbat as I knew it, ended. My cousin Carol's family left for Toronto. Then, in August 1978, when I was 14-and-a-half, my family moved to Chicago (later, the rest of my cousins would move to Australia). I don't remember much of those first two years. Did my little shellshocked family of four-now living in a rented, rundown, leaky house in Wilmette and knowing no-one-even do Shabbat? In 1980, we moved to Hyde Park, settled down, and I remember Shabbat again. Living in Hyde Park, my world expanded. I had friends of many backgrounds. My mom, who despite being diagnosed with ovarian cancer pretty soon after we'd arrived on the South Side, made sure that we celebrated Shabbat all through the rest of high school and my college years (I lived at home) and I'd sometimes invite a college friend who would bask in a homemade dinner with a family round the table.

After college, I sort of lost and found and struggled with Shabbat. I traveled Europe. I spent a year in Israel on a kibbutz and in Jerusalem. I came home and met my now-husband Kerry and balanced seeing this non-Jewish boyfriend with going to my parent's house on Friday nights (they weren't thrilled with the situation at the time). I struggled with having a non-Jewish boyfriend. Most of the time, being in love was enough. But deep down I knew-and one day I confided in Kerry-that I wouldn't know how to have a family ... if that family didn't have Shabbat. He understood: over the years, he had fallen in love with Judaism and its traditions and decided to convert before we got married.

Which brings me to today. After a long and busy week, it's Friday night. The dining room table is set, a vase of flowers in the middle. We stand in a circle, Kerry, my kids Leor and Micah, often my dad and his wife, sometimes my sister and her husband, other times family friends, and me. Our dog Kiki sits expectantly in the center, waiting patiently through Shalom Aleichem, candle lighting and the Kiddush till the blessing over the bread - Ha'motzi - and that morsel of challah that comes down to her like manna from heaven. Usually, we cook. Sometimes, if the week has been too hectic, we'll order in. But almost always, on Shabbat, we linger a little longer around the table.

Friday nights are different for me than they were when I was a kid so long ago and worlds away. They're not accompanied by glorious sunsets or the smell of burning brush or Hazel and the Brady Bunch. Our family is small, my grandparents and my mom are gone, my cousins are scattered, and Barbi, with a family of her own, lives in California. But I'm so glad that through all the tortuous years, Shabbat has been my touchstone, keeping me true to myself and connected to my people and my past. I hope to pass the gift of Shabbat along to my children-as my grandparents and parents did to me-as a precious pause to cherish in our busy lives, a time to celebrate our history and heritage, and to remember who we really are.


NINA KAVIN lives in "Skevanston" and has been a member of Beth Emet for about 16 years. She is married to Kerry Miller and has two teenage children, Leor and Micah, two dogs, Kiki and Zeke, and a cat named Larry. Nina moved to Chicago at the age of 14 and attended New Trier High School, then the University of Chicago Lab School and graduated from the University of Chicago in 1985 with a degree in English Literature. Nina was Associate Director of the Chicago office of the ADL, Senior Account Executive at Jasculca-Terman and Associates and has freelanced in public relations and event planning. She is on the board of directors of Curt's Cafe.


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, June 12
6:30 p.m. (5:45 p.m. reception) Shabbat Shira with Cantor Arik Luck.
Saturday, June 13
9:30 a.m.  Gillian Rosenberg bat mitzvah with Kahal in the Sanctuary. 

:30 a.m.  
Shabbat Minyan in Room 208.

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