I spend a lot of time in my car between San Ramon and Los Angeles. Lately I’ve been listening to the podcast Judaism Unbound. Judaism Unbound explores out-of-the-box thinking about what is working and what is not and where the Jewish community is headed. Their first guest was Rabbi Benay Lappe who spoke about the way people react when the structure around them (in this case institutional Jewish life) no longer works for them. According to Rabbi Lappe, people have 3 options – they can stay, they can leave, or adapt or innovate to create something that does work. I fit into the third category.
For years, since my kids went off to college, most Friday nights you will find our family gathered to light Shabbat candles and to share our week. This might not be so unusual in some circles but for the fact that one son lives in Irvine, one in Vermont, my father and step-mom are in Idaho and we live in Northern California. Come sundown and 7:30 PST we all gather via Zoom technology, on our computers, as a family. We sing, we bless, we eat, we laugh. Our pets meow and bark and we create special, sacred time. We could let the distance get the better of us and we could drift apart but using the structure of Shabbat, we are strengthening our connection as a family and experiencing a time-honored Jewish ritual.
Judaism Unbound asserts that in today’s Jewish world our focus should be on the quality of our interactions; rather than how big our congregations are. They observe that it seems to many that to lead an authentic Jewish life you must buy into the “whole package” – to do every ritual and every prayer. But their point is that we can be “unbounded’ from this notion and “unbundle” the different elements of the package. We can do the things that are relevant and meaningful in our lives, and not focus on what is not.
There are some who say that we shouldn’t be using computers on Shabbat, and others who might take umbrage with the cats and dogs in the background, and others who for whatever reason say that our Shabbat gathering doesn’t work, but this works for us. It infuses our lives with connection to each other, with connection to our family’s history and our family’s future, as well as with ideas of creating sacred Jewish space. And it is no small thing that on a Friday night, my 27-year old son chooses to light Shabbat candles, to mark Jewish time, before he does whatever a single 27-year old does on a Friday night.
With age and experience comes understanding. It used to sound cliché but now I really understand the expression “The Jews don’t keep the Shabbat; the Shabbat keeps the Jews” because it is my reality.
Wishing you all a Happy Passover filled with food, friends and family,