As a Jewish kid, you are likely immersed in all things Shabbat: the blessings over your grape juice and the pre-French toast challah are two of the first things you learn; your Hebrew-school teachers encourage your family to light candles; that hamotzi song you learned at Jewish sleep-away camp, with all its inflections, stays with you forever; and you are told, at a very early age, your bar or bat mitzvah will take place on Shabbat so it’s very important you pay attention now. For me, the daunting task of leading the Friday night kiddush and Saturday’s Shachrit service, reading two Torah portions, the haftarah and my own devar Torah at my Conservative congregation came one and two days after my 13th birthday. (I crushed it.)
In the almost 14 years that have since elapsed, I’ve been to Shabbat services only for relatives’ b’nai mitzvot. At the invitation of a friend one week in college, I began joining him, his girlfriend (now wife) and a number of their friends for Friday night Shabbat dinner. This warm outreach became a tradition, spurring close friendships, a sense of home I hadn’t yet felt in Boston and some of my favorite college memories. It turns out I’m not alone in this.
To explore this trend, JewishBoston asked several young adults whether—and how—they recognize Shabbat, and what it means to them now. Here’s what they said:
“I don’t really observe Shabbat. The only time I really ever do is during the High Holidays if they happen to coincide. When I was younger, my family used to take me to Shabbat services every few weeks, but we eventually all got too busy to continue. I think Shabbat, like most aspects of Judaism to me, has become less of a very religious thing and more of a cultural thing. Does that make sense? If I observe it, it’s to be a part of the community, rather than for the religious aspects. I’m not even positive I know the correct religious aspects of it.”
“Sort of. I observe Shabbat in that I notice it is Shabbat. What I mean by that is I recognize the beginning and end of Shabbat, but I do not do any formal meal or blessing over that meal. Though I don’t celebrate it, I would love to. Shabbat means tradition to me, and I very much would like the symmetry of having that in my life. For me, Shabbat is not incredibly religious. I currently live in Malawi, so organizing Shabbat is not the easiest thing to do. However, I would love to do it in order to indulge the Jewish cultural attachments I have.”
“I almost always have Shabbat dinner with family or friends, but I don’t often attend services. I also sometimes have Shabbat lunch with family. It’s important to me to do something different on Friday/Saturday, and it’s nice to light candles, say Shabbat prayers and sing Shabbat songs. It’s also nice to have time with family and friends. I try not to go out on Friday nights and prefer to do outdoor or other activities that don’t require spending money on Saturdays. To me, Shabbat is a day of rest from normal activity, a special time to spend with family/friends/nature.”
“I celebrate (not so much observe) Shabbat occasionally, but more as a social gathering with friends or family. It does mean a day of rest for me, but not in the religious sense where I can’t use electronics, drive, etc.”
“There are two occasions when we celebrate Shabbat: the first, when I’m in Israel; the second, when we go to a friend’s house in Arlington. He has this amazing backyard farm and we eat outside. It’s incredibly calm and beautiful back there. He makes an incredible vegetarian or vegan meal, bakes a challah with his son, does the prayers, etc. It’s really nice. Oh, and there’s wine. Also nice. In Israel, which is such a hectic country, it feels like therapy. Everything slows, everyone pays attention to everyone else—it’s amazing. For me, it’s spiritual without being religious. I wish I would do it on my own. I’m in an interfaith family with two young kids. I’m not religious myself (probably the opposite), but I really like the tradition. Shabbat is a way of separating from the every day, if only for a night (we have a hectic Saturday).”
“I keep Shabbat pretty traditionally—I light candles Friday night and refrain from using electronics or money and traveling from Friday night until Saturday night, every week. I also make a point of having a nice dinner with my husband on Friday night, using real plates instead of our usual paper. I do it partially because that’s how I was raised, but also because I love having the break in my week, a time when I am forced to rest, step away from email and social media, and just enjoy time with my husband and my dog without having my face buried in my phone. Also, Shabbos naps are the best thing ever.”
“I do, twice a month. Dinner and drinks in a home with a small group of friends. Other times at Chabad House in Boston. To me, Shabbat is about coming together to end the week with loved ones, and reflection around the table.”
“I do not currently celebrate Shabbat in an observant, Halachic fashion. But I do take the ‘resting’ part very seriously. I grew up celebrating Shabbat in the Orthodox manner—no electricity, no driving around, no cooking, lots of praying and singing Shabbat songs…and lots of naps. Nothing on earth beats a Shabbat nap—it’s truly the sleep of the righteous. However, I am no longer a practicing Jew, so Shabbat for me is still heavily nap-oriented, but now the naps are garnished with watching a lot of ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ and ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ episodes. Shabbat means letting go of everything you’ve been dealing with and stressing out about over the past week. Instead, it’s about spending time connecting with your friends and family and, most important, with your pillows. It’s also an amazing excuse to disconnect from the exhaustion of the 24-hour news cycle by never checking Twitter. Damn, why isn’t it Shabbat yet?!”
“I celebrate Shabbat with friends or with my family. It’s either with a potluck Shabbat dinner, going to services together or just taking time to be together. Shabbat means a break from the week. It typically means I can slow down, take time for myself (and my loved ones) and refresh.”
“I occasionally celebrate Shabbat in social settings—for example, sometimes I’ll go to the Cambridge Moishe House, but not frequently. It’s really hard for me to go home and want to be Jewish/engage in Jewish life when my entire professional life revolves around the Jewish world. I wish I did more/could find the right place to plug in, but sometimes this feels more challenging as a Jewish professional—I can’t always take my “work hat” off. I love celebrating Shabbat when I do. I do associate Shabbat with overnight camp, which I attended for 10 years as a camper and counselor. It’s a time to come together with community, be grateful for the things we have, and just appreciate being together. Now when I celebrate Shabbat, I feel a lot of nostalgia for that community. It’s become a time to reflect, and enjoy good food with friends.”
“Ugh, I unfortunately don’t observe Shabbat. I did for a little bit in college when my friend would host occasionally on Friday night. And when we would do that it just meant getting close friends together to eat good food and drink. It didn’t have religious value other than the fact that it was hosted by my Jewish friend in honor of Shabbat.”
“I typically don’t, but I just got back from Birthright, and because of that I feel like I understand the meaning more. To me, Shabbat is about focusing on the good in your life and remembering all that life has given and continues to give us. So I wouldn’t say I celebrate it in the way that’s most ‘typical,’ but I try to reflect on the positives in my life and what I’m thankful for.”
“I do observe Shabbat in my way—it grounds me, and I feel a bit lost whenever I can’t observe. I do what I can to mark the day as different and to build that architecture in time that Abraham Joshua Heschel described, though I’m sure the way I observe only counts in progressive/Reform terms. I definitely still handle money and turn on lights and watch movies and such. I attempt to only use my phone for building relationships with the people in my life. I try to go to services on Friday night, have people over for dinner or, at the very least, light candles at home. Saturdays are reserved for making me feel like me. I’ll often treat myself to breakfast at a café with a book (#introvert), and sometimes it’s even a Jewish or Judaism-adjacent book. Most important, I try to connect with the people that matter to me for the rest of the day. Because to me, Shabbat is rest. Shabbat is renewal. And Shabbat is connection: to my heritage, to my community, to myself.”
Although these sentiments come from a mix of personal friends and colleagues, the theme this group shares comes down to reconnecting with the self and friends in a relaxing, laid-back setting.
The young(ish) generation hath spoken.
How do you observe Shabbat, if at all?