When I started Avodah, I was in a very vulnerable religious state. I had just come from a weeklong Chabad retreat, where I strongly connected to Halacha and orthodox practices. While attending the first few bayit meetings, I felt uncomfortable speaking up about wanting to keep Shabbos. I didn’t want to pressure others or to make them feel as if they had to observe it as well. But I knew that keeping Shabbos was something that I wanted to try. Previously, I had only kept Shabbos twice during college when I stayed at a Chabad house and at a retreat where there were thousands of other people to talk with and lectures to attend. I had never kept Shabbos in the “real world” and I was interested to see how it spoke to me, but my lack of religious confidence made it difficult to advocate for myself and my desired practices.
After about five months of not keeping shabbos, I mentioned at a bayit meeting that I’d like to give it try. I explained in detail what it would mean for my housemates and for the bayit itself to be a “Shabbos house.” After answering a few questions and providing clarifications, we agreed on a date and each made a few compromises so that the whole bayit could participate. We agreed that the kitchen on the first floor would be Shomer Shabbos, but the kitchen on the third floor would not, for those needed or wanted to cook food. We agreed that we would not turn on the lights in the hallways, but the bathroom lights would stay on. We agreed to not play any loud music, but that people could still use their phones and computers in their own rooms. Everyone was extremely supportive and I finally had the confidence to ask for what I wanted all along.
When that Shabbos finally arrived, I texted our group to remind them everyone so that we could all prepare ahead and not be caught off-guard. When I left work that day, I went home and made “Good Shabbos!” cards to place on top of all of our electronics as a friendly reminder not to use them. I placed one on top of the stove, the microwave and the toaster, as well as, on the hallway lights and bathrooms. I pre-ripped my toilet paper and cleaned my room so I wouldn’t trip on anything in the dark. I made sure to cook dinner in advance, braided the challah, and got out the Shabbos candles and kiddush cup. I was ready.
Dena, my roommate, decided to be shomer Shabbos with me, which made everything much easier. When it was time to light the candles, Dena and I dressed up and rushed downstairs. We lit together, said the bracha, and gave a shabbos hug. Then, it was time to daven. Thankfully we had siddurim in our house and we know a lot of the same tunes. We sang every prayer from kabbalat shabbat and ma’ariv, choosing the tunes that we wanted to sing and laughing through the whole service.
The rest of the evening was lovely. Dinner was great and Dena is amazing company. It was strange to go to sleep without checking my phone first, but I made it through.
On Shabbos day, Dena and I walked to Williamsburg to attend a Shabbos brunch at Base BKLN. It took about 45 minutes and it was lovely out. We made sure to not carry anything and left our phones at home. At Base, we studied Kabbalah and ate bagels with our friends. We were there for about two hours before walking back to our bayit in Bushwick. Then, as all good shabbos’s have, we took a long shabbos shlof (nap) and woke up just in time for Havdallah.
We lit our candle, poured the wine, got the cinnamon from our spice drawer, and closed out shabbos. Hamavdil bein kodesh l’chol.
I realized a few things from this experience:
First, advocating for yourself works! I had so much shame and nervousness about my religiosity at the beginning of Avodah which made me too scared to ask for anything “too strict.” Once I was able to ask for what I wanted, I was able to collaborate with my housemates and together, we created an experience that worked for everyone.
Second, I learned which of the 39 melachos spoke to me spiritually and which didn’t. For example, ripping toilet paper on shabbos does not feel like work, so I don’t think I need to pre-rip it before shabbos. However, not using electronics or carrying anything was enlightening. I also realized that for shabbos day to be meaningful, I need to have something to do; learning, playing, or socializing. If I am alone with nothing to do or someone to talk to, I will end up watching Netflix. A person can only read for so many hours.
Lastly, I learned that my fellow Corps Members really care about me and want to support me. I was worried that asking for a shomer shabbos would be a burden to my roommates, but it turned out that I had nothing to be worried about..Through open communication and compromise, we were able to find a solution that worked for everyone. It was a Shabbos that I will never forget.