Some of my earliest memories stem from preschool at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in New York City. I remember the taste of the challah each Shabbat, the welcome sweetness of the grape juice and the excitement of leaving school early each Friday afternoon in preparation for Shabbat. I vividly recall standing in awe in the cavernous synagogue on Friday evenings, which felt immense to me at the time, and experiencing a sense of warmth.
A decade later, as a high school senior in Westchester, NY, I have again discovered this warmth each Shabbat at synagogue as a welcome respite from the trials and travails of the school week.
While my Reform family is relatively observant, which includes sending me to Hebrew school and observing the Jewish holidays, Shabbat services have not always been a weekly family ritual. Instead, the coming and going of the Sabbath each week has frequently been overshadowed by other plans. Weeks of my life often meld together, a cycle of continual work or academic obligations and attempts to untangle the mundane knots of daily life. During these busy stretches, it seems I have forgotten the timeless lesson of the Torah, which says that G-d worked for six days and rested on the seventh day.
The observance of the Sabbath is not only a Biblical practice but a healthy one. I have found through my high school career that taking a step back from stress or work to center oneself and connect to others is key to a balanced, healthy lifestyle. So, I have made it my personal goal to do just this. I’ve begun to set aside time each Friday night to go to synagogue and gain the perspective and rest, which is critical to both my Jewish identity, as well as my personal wellbeing.
In addition to connecting to Hashem, learning more about my faith and considering my relationship to something larger than myself, the restful minutes of Shabbat bring my life into much-needed perspective. No matter the latest English essay, precalculus homework or newspaper article that awaits me on my desk, the candles and grape juice are unchanging.
Shabbat provides a moment to step back and look at the miracles of daily life with wonder, curiosity, and gratitude. The hymns and prayers of the Congregation connect my voice to the voices of thousands of Jews in similar congregations across the globe, all welcoming the peace of Shabbat. Alongside my parents and other members of my community, the stress of the week floats away as night falls and stars fill the sky.
One quote regarding Shabbat, from “How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household” by Blu Greenberg, particularly stands out to me:
“No system that engages a variety of human beings can be absolutely perfect. But, Shabbat comes very close to perfection. It is a day of release and re-energizing; a day of family and of community; of spirit and of physical well-being…It is ancient, yet contemporary…Without it I could not live.”
Shabbat gives us a weekly opportunity, at once contemporary as it is ancient, to be introspective, assign meaning to our lives and examine our existence as humans and our wider place in the universe.
As I gear up for the new challenges of college after I graduate high school in June, I find comfort in knowing that Shabbat is waiting each week, ready to provide much-needed pause, spiritual reflection and inner peace.
In the quest to find one’s inner peace, I’d recommend curating one’s own Shabbat. Whether that Shabbat materializes as a traditional observance of the Jewish Sabbath, a daily run in the park or cooking a new recipe, it is important to identify a weekly or daily ritual which provides pause, reflection and a few minutes to breathe.
Jacob Strier is a senior at The Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. He is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.