(photo source: www.SFGate.com)
"Make it a great day or not, the choice is yours!" booms the cheery voice of my kids' grade school principal. I'm forever bristling with analytical responses to this Buddha quote. Is it really their choice? This places a large burden upon children. I have toyed with the idea of speaking to her for some time, (each time a blast message goes out from the school concluding with this particular sentiment) although I know the quote is harmlessly meant to inspire, and instill a positive attitude. In Judaism, we encourage such optimism in our outlook (i.e. "it's a big mitzvah to be with happiness" goes a popular tune) along with the knowledge that our plans can be thwarted. Observant Jews do place a particular emphasis on wishing one another -and complete strangers who appear to be Jewish - a "good Shabbos." Well maybe it is a good one and maybe it isn't, but it's the expression that seems to count. Most of us appreciate a friendly Jew welcoming us with the secret club password. Even if you don't observe a full Shabbos (or none at all), a friendly salute can put a smile on your face if you are a sucker for acceptance.
When my husband and I lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, we attended synagogue regularly and would pass those dressed in their synagogue best. "Good Shabbos" we called out to each person that crossed our path. Sometimes we got the identical greeting in response and other times it was a nod or grunt, but occasionally our words were completely ignored. Thus began the game of "...or not." We'd look at each other with sarcastic expressions but eventually, because I can be a little inappropriate in the face of perceived injustice, I would mumble "or not" quasi-audibly under my breath. If the particular non-responder appeared snooty and aloof, "quasi" was questionable. I am not sure why I demanded friendliness from everyone at that brazen point in my 20s. If I don't hear you and therefore don't respond with "Good Shabbos" today, I could chalk it up to a difficult morning with the kids or some other cause of moodiness. Not being half as religiously observant as I was 20 years ago, I won't get offended if you mistake me for a gentile and don't utter the sentiment entirely. It actually has begun to bother me that gentiles are overlooked in all the "Good Shabbos" camaraderie, so I have begun saying "Good morning" to the people I pass if I am out on a Saturday.
Such friendliness can go many ways for me being that I live 8 minutes from the George Washington Bridge to NYC. Sometimes my greetings are met with bewilderment (some New Yorkers just don't know what to do with it. Plus, we are teaching our children not to talk to strangers.), but most often it is appreciated in a "who are the people in your neighborhood" manner and incidentally, Bob from Sesame Street lives a few short blocks from my house.
Whatever the greeting is, it's not the biggest stretch. I find staring a person down after they've uttered niceties to be a cold move. That said, I have inexplicably been on the receiving end of it. So now I'm going to say something very irreligious in nature, but something that needs to be said nonetheless: Get the stick out of wherever it may be and lose the hang-ups. Unless you perceive the "Good Shabbos" hurled your way to be some sort of a dangerous set-up (and I'm sure you're attune and cautious), just say it back. If you're not Jewish, play along. You might make some friends.