"Judaism is the most amazing religion, we celebrate the holiest day of the year once every week, " I proclaim every Friday to my family and friends. They are amused by my proclamation. "Doesn't she every get tired of saying this?" they ask exasperated.
Now that I am living in Israel where Shabbat IS Shabbat, I revel in the constant greeting "Shabbat shalom," as we approach Shabbat. I relish the daily debates about the parashat hashavua, the Torah portion to be read on Shabbat.
The week revolves around Shabbat. "Going to shul? The usual one? Are you hosting meals? No, so where are you eating? Plans after Shabbat? Wow, what a great evening that'll be!" Shabbat topics are the verbal currency throughout the week.
Even though I've lived in Israel extensively for 18 years, when I made Aliyah, I internalized Shabbat to an even greater degree. Now as an olah hadasha, Shabbat in Jerusalem is one of my most beloved experiences.
Readying for Shabbat on Friday makes it an especially busy day. Yet my family and friends and I find time to talk. It's not an obligatory phone call, it's a special communication. We share news of the past week, Shabbat plans and menus, commiserate we'll never be ready for Shabbat on time (although we always are), and typically we end with a heartfelt "Shabbat Shalom."
Around noontime, there's a shift in the mood of the day. Quiet begins to descend. Shops close, street traffic decreases. Internally, I begin to relax in anticipation of the menucha, the unique rest of Shabbat. As Rashi explains, elucidating the seventh day of Creation in Bereshit 2.2: "When Shabbat came, menucha came."
Hours later, in Jerusalem the siren sounds signaling the beginning of Shabbat. For 25 hours life changes. No electronics. No everyday work. Even with the busy-ness of Shabbat prayers and special meals, the freedom from email and phone calls consistently makes Shabbat a day of rest for me. I recharge for the coming week both physically and spirituality. I carry the holiness of Shabbat into the coming week.
My favorite Shabbat prayer which I've cherished for years is in the Musaf Kedusha:
"The angels ask one another 'Where is the place of God's kavod, God's glory?'" When I ask this question reciting the liturgy, I personally search for God. "Where are you?" I implore. Whether or not I get an answer to my prayed question, it's my most important question every week.
How does Shabbat differ for me here as a proud new Israeli versus my Shabbat experiences while living in the United States?
When spending Shabbat in an observant community outside Israel, there are similarities. Yet I miss the Jerusalem Shabbat siren. I miss the Shabbat greetings so omnipresent in Israel. I miss the underlying rhythm of the week so attuned to Shabbat in our Homeland.
When I spend Shabbat outside an observant community because of a b'nai mitzvah, for example, struggle is the summarizing word. Walking to synagogue? Kosher food? Sometimes these are not easy to achieve. And praying the Shabbat services in a synagogue where the liturgy is attenuated and my priority prayer question may only be asked by me privately feels like a loss.
When I return to Israel from travel abroad, my first Shabbat back home is extra-special. Here, I am more able to become attuned to Shabbat as "a palace in time" as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel bids us to do. I ask my crucial prayer question on Shabbat with special fervor. I feel so privileged to celebrate Shabbat and to live in the Center of the Universe. And I savor every moment of the 25 hours of the holiest day of the year -- every week!