Making plans with a friend recently, we realized that the event we thought was taking place on Friday was actually going to be on Satuday. I noticed that she seemed a little reluctant to continue planning, and after a few minutes the reason became clear. “Will that be alright for you?” she asked. “It’s Shabbat, after all.” I was surprised. “I don’t work on Shabbat, but going to a hockey game is totally kosher for me.” My fellow Jew seemed relieved. “I’ve noticed you’re not on social media very much on Shabbat, so I was just wondering.” As we continued planning, I kept thinking about her words, and others’ comments from the past. Is it that unusual for a Reform Jewish woman in her mid-20s, convert or not, to be Shabbat observant?
I guess the question kept coming back to me because I don’t consider myself particularly strict about Shabbat. I follow the spirit of the law rather than the letter of it; so I don’t work or attend work events or work on grad school things on Shabbat. As a matter of fact, I don’t look at my work email and I stop it from syncing with my phone for that blessed time. But I do cook, and use electricity, and drive, and spend money, and write–as a matter of fact, I take the time to do all of those things on Shabbat because I find them enjoyable and I don’t get to do them during the week. Thus, my level of observance might not seem observant at all to someone who is Modern Orthodox or even Conservative, but it seems to be a pretty big deal among many of my Reform brethren and several of my non-Jewish acquaintances.
More than my level of observance (or lack thereof), most people seem surprised by the fact that I even observe it at all. “Who has time for that?” I’ve heard. “How do you do it?” I found myself shrugging off those questions with some platitude or another for answer–until someone asked a different question. “Why do you choose to observe Shabbat?” The simple answer is the same explanation for why, after twenty four years of eating double bacon cheeseburgers at Wendy’s, I chose to go Biblical kosher: “it makes me feel closer to God.”
However, there is also a more practical reason: I needed to have one guilt-free day a week. I needed a day where depression couldn’t shame me into (or out of) being productive. I needed a day where it was okay to get lost in a book, or take a bath, or play some video games, or catch up on my DVR. Since I started observing Shabbat, more or less strictly about a year and a half ago, I am much more productive the other six days of the week–and I am finding my weekends much more restful. There is something really liberating about being able to say “no” to others and “yes” to myself when I find it so difficult the other six days of the week. On Shabbat, God wants me to rest–and so I will say yes to myself in order to please Him.