Last summer’s congregation survey reported and recent conversations confirmed that a number of people have said they would come to services more often than they currently do if only the service was shorter. On one hand, the people who doven in the Ahavas Israel community religiously, week after week, appreciate a traditional service, which, no doubt about it, is long. On the other hand, we want people to be able to find a satisfying worship experience at Ahavas Israel. Therefore, I have proposed an experiment to the Religious Life committee. On the second Shabbat of each month we will alter our Shabbat morning schedule and service in order to shorten the service significantly.
We’ll begin at 9:30 a.m. with bagels and Torah study. The service will begin at 10:30, with a goal of finishing by 11:45. We’ll try this for a minimum of 12 months, but begin to gather feedback after the first six months. Please be patient for the first couple of months. It may take a little experimentation to get the timing right.
I’m hoping that the multi-faceted experience will draw in both those who like Torah study, even if they don’t stay for the service, and those who want a shorter service, even if they don’t come early for the Torah study. I’m also hoping that our regulars who appreciate a traditional experience will enjoy the extended Torah study and also find the quicker service tolerable, once a month.
The first of the monthly Torah Study Shabbat services will take place on June 11. Subsequent dates will be July 9, August 13, September 10, October 8, November 12, and December 10. The schedule will be:
- 9:30 a.m. bagels and Torah study
- 10:30 a.m. Service
- 11:45 a.m. Kiddush
I shared two Sabbatical articles with my writing group last week. Aside from the small suggestions of grammar and sentence structure, I heard comments that I need to pay more attention to story. These articles could be more than just a journal of my activities. They should be the ongoing story of a series of transformative activities. Not everyone is fortunate enough to be in a profession that allows them an unstructured leave from daily responsibilities to spend an extended period of time learning and thinking. However, the Sabbatical can be experienced in microcosm if the story can be translated into the reader’s life.
Here’s a story from the first week of Sabbatical: One of my more mundane activities has been making soup. When I was first learning to cook seriously, in my early 20’s, I thought cooking soup required magic. My mother is a wonderful cook. I could never figure out how she could turn water into this rich, fragrant, golden liquid called chicken soup until I tried it for myself. I discovered that cooking soup simply requires throwing the ingredients into a pot of water and cooking it for hours, letting the magic of chemistry blend the flavors together, pull the starches and bind the liquid together into … soup!
If all you have at your disposal is standard kitchen equipment (i.e., no pressure cooker), you can’t rush the process of making soup. You can’t turn the stove up to high and make the magic happen faster. Similarly, the learning that happens during a sabbatical takes time. What do you do when you don’t have extended unstructured time? One answer, the Jewish answer, is that you can build a mini-sabbatical, called Shabbat, into your week. Magic happens on Shabbat when you decline to schedule shopping, entertainment opportunities, or children’s obligations, but rather spend the time in prayer (preferably community-based prayer), study, reading, contemplation, socializing, and eating meals with family and/or friends.
Winter is approaching. What a good time to make soup and make Shabbat!
I have been observant of traditional Sabbath practices (shomer Shabbat) for about 26 years, and my Shabbat practice has become so second nature to me that I sometimes forget the extent to which it is out of step with the way most people live their lives. However, I didn’t grow up strictly Sabbath observant. It’s something that I began to explore as a teen at Camp Ramah and in my home synagogue, and began to adopt seriously during my year studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It was not until I came home after that year that I made the commitment to incorporate the restrictions of a traditional Jewish Shabbat observance a consistent part of my life.
It was not only an adjustment to me, but to my family and friends as well. When I stopped using the telephone on Shabbat, my family was worried about how they would contact me in case of emergency. I assured them that if I was home, I would listen to the answering machine, and if it was an emergency I would pick up. One of my friends began leaving 5-10 minute messages on Shabbat afternoon and calling me 10 minutes before the end of Shabbat, which I suspect was a passive-aggressive way of dealing with his unhappiness at my evolution into “Religious Jew.” Slowly, though, friends and family adjusted.
It was not a terrible adjustment for Congregation Ahavas Israel when I arrived in Grand Rapids. Most of the previous rabbis, including my predecessor, also had a fairly traditional Shabbat practice. However, it is worthwhile periodically discussing how my Shabbat and Holiday practice affects my functioning and availability as a rabbi, and how to contact me in case of emergency, such as death or serious illness.
The answering machine that I had when I first arrived in Grand Rapids has gone the way of the dinosaur. Voicemail has some advantages, but I have not figured out a way to screen calls on Shabbat and pick them up of they are urgent. In the case of death or serious illnesses,if you need to reach me on Shabbat or holidays, there are a couple of options: You can call my Google Voice number (616-929-0459) and leave me a message which I will get immediately after Shabbat or the Festival ends. Alternatively, you can stop by my home or ask someone else to come to my home to notify me. I will discuss funeral arrangements to the extent that I am able, given that it is Shabbat and I will not have access to my calendar. If it would be helpful, I could walk to the hospital (Blodgett or Butterworth only).
Despite the occasional hardships of not using electronics on Shabbat, I find it to be tremendously liberating. I sleep better and have sharper concentration. If you would like a detailed discussion on the use of electronic devices on Shabbat, you can find a very well written paper by my colleague Rabbi Danny Nevins on this page, under the category of Shabbat: http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/jewish-law/committee-jewish-law-and-standards/orah-hayyim