Updated: Jan 21, 2020
Being originally from the US, I have many fond memories of Thanksgiving Day: Family, food, togetherness, sharing, relaxing, just enjoying a day or a meal together. Jews the world over celebrate a similar tradition on Shabbat. In Israel we work a 6-day workweek, but on Shabbat we rest. Trains, buses and many businesses close down for the weekend day. It's a time for soldiers to come home, kids who live elsewhere return for the weekend from work or school, and the rest of us get a day off from chores.
This day is all about resting, relaxing, playing games, telling stories, working on art projects, appreciating time together and eating. We have a special meal Friday night, then again on Saturday for lunch. Inbetween, there is breakfast, Challah bread, salads, desserts, drinks, and snacks. It's a lot of food, (in our family, healthy and simple) and it all needs to be prepared beforehand. Those who religiously observe the Shabbat, don't use electricity or fire for cooking during the holiday. So we prepare, cook, bake and clean it all before the Shabbat begins.
What reminds me of Thanksgiving day, besides traditional foods and family time, is the part of giving thanks. Even families who don't make a blessing over food they eat during the week, make blessings for Kiddush on Shabbat, giving thanks to God for Shabbat, for providing our sustenance and for protecting us.
In the Torah, God blessed the Shabbat and made it a holy day. A day of rest from the work he had done in creating the world. Jews are instructed to do the same: Keep the Shabbat and keep it holy. One way we do this, is by making it a day separate from the others. We do things differently than we do on other days. We don't work, use money, don't light fire, travel or speak of the same things that we do during the other six days.
Many families go to the local synagogue, and read the Torah sections corresponding to the specific date on the Hebrew calendar. Others, secular or more traditional families, keep the Shabbat in different ways. Similar to Thanksgiving, they observe the Shabbat as a non-religious holiday, but still very much a holiday meant to bring families and friends together with lots of good food every week.
To begin the holiday, we light candles to bring in the holiness of the Shabbat. Anytime we light candles, it creates an aura of intent, sacredness and connectedness to our past, present and future, (in this world and the next). We light two Shabbat candles to remind us of the two commandments, to keep the Shabbat and keep it holy. For others, the two candles signifiy two souls: ours and the extra soul we receive for the Shabbat day. For me it also signifies the angels who guard the Garden of Eden with swords of fire. (One day, we might be allowed back in............. (to be continued) )
This day of thanksgiving, is a day that brings us together for quality time. In our safe space, we hash out problems and ideas, deal with traumas, troubles, we share joy, wins, and funny stories. This is where generations come together and we build a sort of cocoon around ourselves, that includes extended friends and family who spend the day with us.
Every week for these 24 hours, we spend quality time away from phones, TV, and computers . It's time without distractions from the outside world, without stressors, without technology. We put it all to the side, so that we can focus on what's really important: Time to reconnect to God, to ourselves and to each other.
At the end of the Shabbat day, we go outside to look for three stars before saying Havdalah.
Looking for stars is a simple act that brings us closer to nature by requiring us to step outside, no matter the weather, to look into the skies for stars as a sign that Shabbat has ended and the rest of the week has begun. The fact that it has to be three stars, means that together we are out there for quite a while looking into the heavens until we can find three twinkling stars.
We acknowledge the difference between the holy and the mundane with the Havdalah blessings, then we light candles and welcome back in the outside world and the new week. The lingering effects of the sweetness of Shabbat are mirrored on our fingertips (reflecting the candles), and tingling our noses (smelling spices).
(Where i live, we also have bats that come out every evening at exactly the same time as three stars appear. If there is cloud cover and we are unable to see the stars, we can always depend on the bats to tell us when the correct time is!).
Yes, shopping, cooking, baking and cleaning is a major undertaking every single week (not to mention similar preparations made for the other major holidays that fall in-between every Shabbat) , and many times it feels overwhelming, but in the end it's all about connection. Through food, gratitude and sacred space, we emerge whole, calm and recharged.
I live thousands of miles away from my original home, the US, yet I feel right at home here in Israel. Instead of having to wait an entire year for my favorite Thanksgiving holiday, we celebrate it every week!