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SA Jewish News

Shabbos is hard work

  • ShabbosProjectChrisMcArthur
The product of a Roman Catholic father and a Jewish mother who, herself, had a Roman Catholic father, I have the privilege and burden of existing in two of the three major Abrahamic traditions.
by CHRISTOPHER MC ARTHUR | Nov 02, 2017

When trying to communicate the experience of observing Shabbat to non-Jews, I always use analogies they’re most likely to connect with.

“Imagine the meal you eat on Christmas Day; all the accoutrements like potatoes, gravy, three kinds of meat. The table set beautifully and the best silver you own laid out. That’s what Shabbos is like, except every week.”

But this Shabbos was not like that for me. You see, lately I have had a work schedule that our ancestors would describe as “Egyptian”. Moses may have led us out of Pharaoh’s land, but we walked straight into the Capitalist West after our emancipation.

As a young, ambitious professional in my mid-twenties who was the first in my family to get a degree, success in the working world has become not only something for myself, but a mark of pride for my whole family. I arrive early and leave late. I never say no to a task, and always say yes when an extracurricular project comes up at the office. So, naturally the word “project” gets me excited.

The Shabbos Project gives an air of occasion to Shabbos that some Jews don’t feel any other Friday night. I stayed in Sea Point where it seemed every kitchen was filled with the warm, homely smell of byproducts from the Great Challah Bake.

There were fairy lights sprinkled all over the Atlantic Seaboard. A unity dinner held at the Weizmann School hall drew an astonishing 700 people. I ate my supper in a Bedouin-style stretch tent; we played games and performed skits for the children while their parents heard a spirited and inspiring talk by a survivor of the Holocaust.

The lead up to my Shabbos Project was writing an e-mail to a co-worker. It was monitoring my company’s social media pages for the various brands I work on. It was being half-dressed in socks, smart trousers without a belt and 50 per cent of my cufflinks missing as I swore at my laptop. Stressed, late, and 20 minutes from Shabbat coming in.

You see, lately, my Egyptian office has led me to believe that maybe I’m the Pharaoh here. Maybe I’m the one cracking the whip. And maybe, once a week, I need to let it all go.

The truth is: Shabbat is work. A different kind of work, yes, but work nevertheless. It’s a weekly decision to put yourself aside - to put the whole world aside. Shabbat has been described as “an island in time that exists outside of time” And swimming to that island every Friday, and doggy-paddling back after every Havdalah with heady spices to carry you a little further than your Shabbat-slackened sinews would ordinarily be able to, is hard to do. It’s hard work, because we have to give up our egos for the entire day.

On Shabbat, we don’t spend any money on anything. We don’t even have a television or radio to mask our gaps in conversation, or provide a distracting refuge for an estrangement felt like a thick, hot smog in the air.

During Shabbat we can’t hide from each other, or even ourselves. And that, reader, is work.

But, it’s the kind of labour that lifts us, and doesn’t weigh us down. Letting ourselves ease out of our egos once every seven days is scary. A collective sense of minority stress urges us to strive all week for bigger-better-higher-faster-more, only to have to abandon all that on Shabbos.

My Yiddish is a little rusty, but I’m pretty sure Gut Shabbos doesn’t translate to “Shouldn’t you be checking on that campaign?” At 25, I’m still learning that letting go of the need to work is what Shabbos looks like for me, but I quite like that.

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