Monday, November 14, 2011

Shabbos Dinner for Skinheads

Rabbi Michael Shudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland, told Rabbi Packouz the following story: Two young anti-Semitic skinheads got married after high school. Two years later the wife's grandmother dies. On her deathbed the grandmother tells her, "I am Jewish, your mother is Jewish, you are Jewish." The young lady tells her husband that she heard of a Friday night meal that Jews celebrate and that she would like to honor her grandmother's memory each week with a Shabbat dinner. The husband had no objection, after all, one has to eat anyway.
However, the husband's parents were vehemently against it. "You can't do this! This Jewish stuff is not good. It's dangerous. You don't know what can happen if you do it!" The more they protested, the more the husband stood up for his wife and supported her Friday night efforts.

Over time his parents saw how much their son and daughter-in-law were enjoying Shabbat and how serious they were about Judaism. The young man approached his father that he was considering converting to Judaism. With perhaps a bit of chagrin the father tells his son, "You do not need to convert; you, too, are Jewish."

This is the power of Shabbat! It touches the soul. It gently fans the spark in the soul that yearns for a connection to the Almighty. For one who has not experienced Shabbat it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine the experience. Pearl Benisch conveys the beauty, the tranquillity, the transcendence of Shabbat in her inspiring holocaust memoir To Vanquish the Dragon:

"How I used to love Shabbos at home, with its tranquil joy. There, too, I had counted the days until at long last it was Friday. From the early morning on we would be busily at work, preparing meals and scrubbing the house for the holy day. Then, dressed in our holiday finest and trembling with excitement, we would wait for the moment when in her full glory the Shabbat Queen would enter our home and our hearts.

"Mother would greet the Queen by kindling the Sabbath candles, moving her long, regal hands over and around the little flames and then resting them over her lovely, troubled face. How I had yearned to hear the blessing she whispered in those precious moments when, oblivious to the world, she conversed with God.

"Whispered though it was, I knew the contents of that prayer: you were praying, Mother, for the light to enter our hearts and fill them with love and understanding, for us to be better Jews, kinder people. I knew you were pleading with God to ease the burden of His people, to bring salvation to this tormented nation. And I knew you were praying for the same light to spread over the world and enter every human heart, illuminating the darkness of our existence.

"When she would lift her hands, the features I saw were no long the troubled weekday ones; they radiated strength and peace. In one moment, as if by the touch of a magic wand, the house was transformed into a sanctuary filled with light, love and tranquillity. The Shabbos table beckoned, with its spirited zemiros (Shabbos songs), Torah discussions, and peaceful aura."

Someone once said, "More than the Jewish people has preserved the Shabbat, the Shabbat has preserved the Jewish people." To enhance your Jewish family life and to strengthen the connection of your children with our heritage ... try Shabbat! If you would like to experience Shabbat, ask a friend who keeps Shabbat for an invitation. If you keep Shabbat, invite someone who might enjoy it.

There is a practical guide to experiencing a traditional Shabbat: Friday Night and Beyond: The Shabbat Experience Step-by-Step by Lori Palatnik (available at your local Jewish bookstore, at or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242). It is well worth buying! Michael Medved, the noted talk show host relates to it as "a warm and wonderful book that describes some of the most life-enhancing aspects of Jewish tradition in inviting, accessible terms. Reading Friday Night and Beyond is like joining an especially joyous and informative family table as an honored Shabbat guest."

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