A year later and a real understanding dawns

  • ShabbosProjectJoGlanville
My first Shabbos Project was last year and the conclusion to a difficult stretch. My partner, Rory, and I had fumbled our way into Cape Town from Johannesburg and were a little shell-shocked by the instant disappearance of the helping hands and compassionate ears we had become so accustomed to. At the risk of alienating some locals… man, Capetonians can be icy.
by JO GLANVILLE | Nov 02, 2017

It was in this cold, seemingly impenetrable environment that one of Rory’s aunts performed a gentle gesture I have now come to know as typical of Jewish women. She casually invited her cousin’s son’s girlfriend to a Shabbos Project challah bake.

 One thousand women preparing challah was my first real introduction to the Jewish community in Cape Town. Everyone seemed so comfortable, like they knew exactly what they were doing; it was very intimidating.

That night I baked my challah at home with some friends visiting from Johannesburg. It was terrible; less of a foodstuff and more of a potential weapon of the hammer throw variety.

Although it was disappointingly heavy, terribly plaited and a little burnt, my friends and I circled it gleefully, giggling and picking bits off. Despite the disaster, I had a quiet, almost unsettling sense of joy and calm on that Friday that I wouldn’t have been able to place and quickly shrugged off.

 For the rest of that Shabbos Project I dipped in and out of the events with curiosity but limited commitment; I didn’t think it was really intended for someone like me.

As the year wore on, my partner and I became more observant, resulting in a decision to keep Shabbat weekly. I'm not going to sugar-coat this for anyone considering keeping Shabbos; it can be an uncomfortable and intimidating process.

During the first months I was exposed to Shabbos in disjointed, uncomfortable chunks that, with my lack of context, rarely made sense. I went to shul, helped prepare the food, and spent ages trying to figure out the parameters and loopholes of how one goes about keeping Shabbos.

I was flooded with feelings of confusion, performance anxiety and, sometimes, fury at all of the limitations I was being presented with. I had many an awkward standoff with a mechitza and felt completely overwhelmed every time a new guideline was introduced into my weekend. That was until I had to miss one Shabbos after keeping Shabbat for a month.

The week following the missed Shabbos, I was inexplicably grouchy and exhausted but more acutely than that, felt untethered, as if the support was being jostled from under my feet with every step I took deeper into the week.

I tried relaxing, meditating, drinking an obscene amount of tea. It did not work. It was becoming an increasingly painful week, dragging, until it reached Shabbos and I was too tired to resist the restrictions or become infuriated by the requirements.

The rituals washed me along the preparations before, drew me effortlessly onto a seat in shul and gently placed me between friends for chicken soup. My feet finally planted back on the ground and I felt the world solidifying.

The lights went on (proverbially, obviously, nobody panic). I needed the necessary time to connect, recharge and be in the world so I would have the necessary energy to create, think and do in the world.

I saw that the practices aren’t there to limit but to create the potential for something else and I realised I couldn’t not keep Shabbos.

I was at this revelation in my journey by the time the Shabbos Project rolled back around. When Rory’s (and my now adopted) aunts and I arrived at the Challah Bake this year and I had a second look at everyone gathered, I realised that everyone was probably in varying states of being comfortable with Shabbos and this was the place where they were exploring it.

I overheard women instructing on braiding techniques in between giving advice after a difficult week. I watched a child comforted after she had broken her challah bag. I noticed someone awkwardly trying to mouth along to a bracha and watched a helpful hand point it out in the guide.

I almost cried with relief remembering my own insecurity and watching it being eliminated for someone else.

One of my aunts whispered to me that kneading the dough would be the only stress reliever I would ever need. I felt the dough become silky between my fingers and an inexplicable calm seeping into my hands as I remembered my first Challah Bake and everything it ended up meaning.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Tory Rain 07 Nov
    This is just stunning!


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