We have just finished what most Jews consider the most important part of the Jewish year. While Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services are pretty much guaranteed to be the
best-attended of the year, there are other important holidays which, while not celebrated primarily in the synagogue, are sometimes even more observed by Jews around the world. I speak, of course, of Passover and Chanukah. Surveys show that these two holidays are more likely to see people travel great distances to be with family members who no longer live nearby. What most people find harder to believe is that we Jews have way more holidays than just about every other religion. We have over sixty holidays a year!
It happened to be Passover and the teacher asked what the next Jewish holiday was. The obvious thing to do was to continue around the circle and say “Shavout” and this is what most people would have guessed. However, the correct answer is “Shabbat,” that big space in the middle of the circle. Shabbat isn’t just the sign that another weekend has rolled around. Shabbat is also a holiday – as in “holy day.” It figures in our Bible from the very first chapters in the Book of Genesis and appears by name in 24 of the 37 books of the Hebrew Bible. No other Jewish holiday has had such an impact on our people. So, again, as I usually say in my columns, “Where am I going with this?” The answer is that while most of us seem to be able to find time in our busy lives to come to one, two, three, or even four or more services over the months of September and October, it seems that it should be fairly easy to find time throughout the rest of the year when there is more flexibility in our schedules – to attend one or maybe two Shabbat services a month. One a week would be ideal! Yet, these services have but a fraction of the attendance of the services we experienced a few weeks ago. By the way, it is not just at Temple Israel thatthis is true – Or Shalom, Beth Tefilah, and indeed, every congregation around the world, finds itself in this same situation to a greater or lesser degree. Why is that? And what can we do about it?
God doesn’t need us to attend services – WE need us to attend services! Shabbat is what has kept the Jewish People going for thousands of years. I remember learning the following quote by Achad Ha’am, a nineteenth century Zionist leader and philosopher when I was a young student in Israel: “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.” Shabbat is meant to recharge our batteries, spiritually as well as physically. Resting on Shabbat, praying as a community on Shabbat, listening to the Choir performing uplifting music on Shabbat, eating together on Shabbat, meeting our friends on Shabbat, learning together (or by yourself, if necessary) on Shabbat – all these things improve our Jewish lives – AND our lives as ordinary human beings, as well! While the Jewish Year 5773 has already begun, it is not too late to make another “New Year’s Resolution” and that would be to try to attend even a few more Shabbat services during the year. Or at least “step off the gerbil wheel,” spending more time together as a family on Shabbat, especially doing Shabbat things like lighting candles and enjoying a nice, fresh challah, singing Shabbat songs and reading a good Jewish book. On that subject, note that our revitalized Temple library has over two thousand books you can sign out without the worry of library fines and you can even search our catalogue of books from the Temple home page!!! And at the end of this month, we are dedicating the Art Benjamin Childrens’ Collection within our library which will make even more Jewish books available to borrow to read over Shabbat, especially with our kids. Shabbat is a holy day which can be celebrated at home OR in synagogue – but, of course, even better yet, in both. Why not let Shabbat enrich your lives to a greater degree in the year 5773?
I know you will benefit from experiencing Shabbat Shalom – Sabbath Peace – as often as you can. And if you are reading this on a Friday evening or Saturday before sundown – Shabbat Shalom!!!
P.S. We have just concluded a beautiful and spiritual High Holy Days period and I wish to thank the following for their efforts in making things happen: First of all, Rabbi Debra Dressler, for conducting our services and delivering such thought-provoking sermons. Tom Casler, Len Silverstein, Rael Wienburg, and Paul Gerster for all their work in making sure everything got to and from the JCC on time and in place, Jennifer Goldman for keeping things going in the office, Desi and Kandice Brownstone and Naomi Stambler for the beautiful floral arrangements that graced our JCC sanctuary, Leora Swartzman for seeing that we were able to collect 2584 pounds of food for the London and Area Food Bank (see p.23 for more details), and David Rosner, Michael Simmons, and the members of the Temple Choir for their hours of preparation and singing during this period. I am sure that I inadvertently left somebody out so in the spirit of Yom Kippur just passed, I ask for your forgiveness.