A Shabbat Dinner Away From Home

I got back to Boston last night, choosing to fly on Thanksgiving Day to take advantage of the lowered airfare. I had a bus ticket to New York City the next morning, but plans fell through leaving me not all together disappointed. So I now stand here in my kitchen preparing food for dinner. By the time I am done cooking I am thinking I may have stretched the additional eighteen minutes past the 3:57 candle lighting time. But in front of me sits a feast, scrounged from forgotten leeks, leftover rice and frozen fish. I scoop generous helpings onto a plate, and clamber awkwardly through the bathroom window, balancing Shabbat dinner in my right hand while I use my left to navigate onto the sloped porch roof overlooking the sidewalk. Unseasonably warm, I am comfortable without a jacket and perch myself against the house. The sky above the schoolhouse up beyond the hill is showing off its sun-setting splendor, skimming pink clouds on a darker purple backdrop.

Though I am without the traditional bread and wine for my dinner, the silence of the street makes up for it. In Israel, and specifically Jerusalem, the rushing and hustling of Friday afternoon turns into quietness and peace following the pealing of the siren marking the beginning of the Sabbath, but here in the towns surrounding Boston, there is more traffic than ever around 5:00 p.m. on Friday afternoon. But tonight, still in the throes of Thanksgiving, people have not begun to shift about yet, and the roads are empty, the street quiet. A couple people amble by below me, and sometime later a few more, but beyond that nothing moves. The lack of material Shabbat goods and the absence of family and friends are made up by the surrounding serenity.

That moment is bright, but fades as I fall back into the house -- darkness beginning to take over, throwing shadows over the couches. Because I refrain from turning on and off lights on Shabbat, the mounting darkness threatens to instill a murky gloom on the empty house. Yet, reclaiming lightness is what Shabbat is all about. Taking the time away from ceaseless artificial light from our computer screens and glittering phones to create and realize our own light. There are so many different kinds of lights that come from within. Togetherness, gathering, communally enjoying are typical lights within groups that are prone to ignite on Shabbat. With many traditions and customs, all sorts of peoples gather to reproduce and produce practices that sing out Shabbat to them, but for me, the highest light of them all is the light of thought that accompanies the silent sunset.

I find my own thoughts interrupted on an almost constant basis. I have surprised myself with my own inability to sit still physically, and emotionally. Most recently, on the plane back to Boston, my legs seemed to be simply unable to rest quietly. I felt a need, an urge, to move them around. And mentally, not even my dreams enjoy consistency or continuity. Thoughts spinning and hurtling at each other from the sides of my brain, exploding in a devastating fireball of confusion and unfocus. However the force of the imposed silence of Shabbat breaks this pattern.

The silence can be harnessed for both power and weakness -- depending on what is needed for the time. Having spent recent months abroad without nearby family or friends, I have grown accustomed to the different settings of the silence of Shabbat. And it is true; this deep silence sometimes is not received with absolute gratitude. At times it feels too imposed, too long lasting, too unforgiving.

Succumbing to the silence can be torturous, because there appears to be no other option. And this is hard, and I go crazy. You spin in circles, knocking on empty doors, caught staring into nothingness, nothingness. Reading the same line over and over again, and to look up at the white ceiling and count out loud the amount of seconds left before you can disrupt your brain and make the explosions again. It is draining and can be painful. In White Noise, Don DeLillo writes, "The world was a series of fleeting gratifications." (170) So by all means when the silence drags, on seemingly endless, perhaps that is the only way to shut down the fleetingness of the world. The day passes so quickly. Inside I feel that I worked my way through, but I do not think I did. The coziness of my room has dissipated; maybe once I spoke of it I allowed the fleeting nature of its gratification to quietly fly away.