by J.L. Wall
Last night at around eight, I was driving up to a Japanese restaurant to meet three friends of mine from high school for sushi. (It should be noted that being a vegetarian limits one’s sushi options in a way not conducive to flavorfulness; on the other hand, I actually figured out how to use chopsticks with basic competency.) On my way there, I passed I passed what I suppose is still technically my synagogue, even though I’ve only been there once since starting college. But there were still a number of cars in the parking lot, and I realized: It’s shabbos.
In Evanston, I’m in shul just about every Friday (Saturday mornings are a little less regular, but so are morning Conservative services). In Louisville, I’ve only been to shul once since starting college, and before that, we only found ourselves there for b’nai mitzvot the High Holidays—and the times I was working there, but that’s an entirely different series of stories. I have my reasons, I suppose, chief among them that I’m not well-suited for Reform services. But last night, it struck me for the first time that this might have something to do with the way that time seems to pass differently here than there, with every day more or less indistinguishable from the others.
It was during the winter of my freshman year that I was walking back to my dorm after my final class of the week and realized that it was Friday afternoon—it was almost shabbos. I realized I was looking forward to it, which I had never done before. Even for someone, like me, who isn’t at all shomer (I’m writing this on shabbos), there was a feeling of relief. And even on days when I’m trying to cram as much work into the final few minutes before leaving for services, once I finally get there, that feelings still comes.
Just setting aside a couple hours over that day for reflection—which is, in a sense, what the services are, especially that whispery silence during the Amidah—makes that day special. And setting aside a single day as “special” (even if not “sanctified”; I doubt I do enough to truly sanctify my shabbatot) makes every other day more important in its own right. I notice that it’s Wednesday, not because it’s “hump day” or because of the distance from shabbos (though I do take note of that), but because it’s Wednesday. When I don’t pay attention to when shabbos is, I find myself not paying attention to when I am.
It only really happens in my life on shabbos or with my grandparents that we stop to say a blessing before eating (the only times I find myself thinking to do so before a meal of my own is if I’ve spent a few hours cooking it; the two are probably not unrelated). I think it may be less the actual blessing that has any affect on the people present than it is the pause before eating. It’s somehow easier to appreciate fully the food with that moment, just like it’s easier to appreciate the week with a day where we pause, even if only briefly.
And I think that Thanksgiving is meant to bring the nation together in a communal Sabbath of sorts; we pause in our years and families, and we do it together.