My Shabbat Experience: Memories of Israel

This is from a post I wrote several years ago when I lived in Israel.

“Blessed are you, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the light of the Sabbath.”

These are the words uttered by thousands of Jewish women all over the world, young and old, every Friday evening after the Shofar blows to mark sunset and the beginning of Shabbat. On a peaceful Friday evening in Israel several years ago, my dear friend stood at my kitchen table, and we lit a candle as she waved her hands over the flame and recited the blessing, welcoming the Sabbath once again.

Sabbath. Shabbat. I’m beginning to understand more fully the significance and beauty of this day. I grew up knowing Sunday as a “Day of Rest.” On Sunday we go to church, we have a change of pace, we might take a nap in the afternoon, and the first and third Sunday of the month we might go to church again in the evening. However, after living in Israel and observing the lives of practicing Jews I think I have gained a deeper understanding of the concept and beauty behind the spirit of the Sabbath more now than in the past. It is about SO much more than not going to work, not going to a store, or all the little things Mennonites like to fight about. The Shabbat I experienced that night in Israel was very different.

My friend from Haifa was visiting Jerusalem, and I was privileged to spend a Shabbat (Friday night) evening with her. She lit her Sabbath candle, and shared with me all the beauties of what a Jewish Shabbat is like…we went to her synagogue, and then continued on to the house of one of her friends where we had an incredible meal lasting for hours, complete with singing, stories, and interesting debate and conversation.Every week they do this. Every week this is something incredibly special that is greatly anticipated throughout the six intermediary days.Community. Conversation. Family. Haverim. It was an experience I won’t ever forget.

The Synagogue itself was a much more intense place than many churches. The men and women separated by a curtain, the chazzan chanting the weakly readings in his singing style, and the woman in headscarves and wigs rocking back and forth, intense in their prayer. After the service some people stay and talk, while others scurry off to their Shabbas meal. Walking in the door of the tiny apartment I am met with the sounds of traditional songs being sung in hearty voices. I link arms with girls I have just met and we sway back and forth as the men sing the words. No one is in a hurry. We finally all find a seat, and things begin. I look around the table and see a variety of faces. Not everyone knows one another, but everyone is welcome.


The washing of the hands. My friend leads me to the sink and shows me how to do the traditional three splashes of water on each hand, and she repeats the blessing for both of us. (They have a blessing for nearly everything!) The man of the house blesses the Challah, gives a piece to his wife, and the meal officially begins. Each course comes slowly…there is no hurry. First the bread and salad, then fish, then soup, then the meat…there is no need to rush. Conversations swirl around me. Debates. Jokes. Stories. Beautiful traditions which these people treasure and hold close to their hearts. Shabbat Shalom.


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