As many of you know, I had the absolute pleasure of visiting the great country of Israel in September. Thanks to the wonderful people at Vibe Israel, I spent a week learning more about family life in Israel and touring their beautiful land. On my first full day in Israel we visited the holy city of Jerusalem. It also happened to be Friday, which meant that Shabbat would begin at sundown.
If you’re not familiar with the term Shabbat, it’s essentially the Jewish day of rest. One of God’s commandments to the Jewish people was to honor the last day of each week by resting, just as he did when he created the world. It begins at sundown on Friday evenings and goes for 24 hours. Some Jews are more strict with their Shabbat rules than others, but basically they cook a big meal (before sundown occurs) on Friday, then as the sun sets they enjoy a fabulous meal together followed by 24 hours of family and religious time. During that time they don’t do work of any kind — for some families, that means even turning on/off a light switch or using any other form of electricity. Some do not drive their vehicles during this time. Many spend a good portion of the day on Friday getting their home nice and clean. An Orthodox Jewish mother we talked to during the trip also mentioned that this is a special time for husbands and wives too, when they make sure to have some intimate time together.
While in Jerusalem we were able to observe the Jewish people preparing for Shabbat, as many were at the market getting food. They also spend time cleaning their homes before nightfall. Our tour guide told us more about Shabbat and then she mentioned something that really stuck with me. She said that she herself was agnostic and not a practicing Jew, however she and her family still followed Shabbat. They used it as special time set aside for their family in this busy world we live in. And that really got me thinking. Sure, as a Christian we consider Sunday our Sabbath and most Christians attend church, but I don’t feel like many treat it as a day of rest or a day to spend with family — I know I wasn’t.
After spending the day in Jeruselam, we finished out the day by enjoying a traditional Shabbat meal at a local family’s home. It was such an amazing day!
I thought about this whole Shabbat thing for the rest of the trip and by the time I arrived home, I was certain I wanted to give it a go. We are so busy, SO BUSY. I’m sure you can relate — as a mom I sometimes feel like I’m failing my kids and my husband because I don’t give them enough of my attention and I don’t cook them enough great meals and I don’t keep my house clean enough, etc.. Plus I feel like electronics have invaded all of our lives and pull us away from each other. So, when I got home, I mentioned my feelings to my husband. I wasn’t sure how he’d react to this crazy idea of mine but I was quite pleased when he said he LOVED the idea and couldn’t wait to implement it.
Now, because we aren’t Jewish we decided we weren’t necessarily going to follow all of the Jewish rules for the day. We developed our own household Shabbat rules, including:
- Shabbat begins at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday.
- Cell phone use during Shabbat is strictly limited to answering important phone calls and checking for important text messages just a few times, replying only if necessary.
- No computers, television, or other electronic device usage unless it’s something we all decide to do together, like watch a family movie before bed.
- We don’t leave the house unless it’s a family activity we all decide to do together. Exceptions however can be made for certain events which can’t be rescheduled (birthday parties, baby showers, weddings, etc.).
- 3 hours prior to the start of Shabbat, we all work together to clean the house well.
- A big Shabbat meal is not required for Friday night, but we do make sure to eat all of our meals together, including breakfast.
- IF Orin and I would decide to watch a movie together after the children are in bed, we must conclude it by 10pm to be sure we set aside intimate time for our marriage, which is vital to a healthy relationship.
We officially started Shabbat the week after I returned home (the first Friday after I returned we were on vacation). We have been doing it now for over a month and truly just LOVE it. On Friday evenings we’ll enjoy a meal together then do something fun with the kids, maybe make a batch of cookies or cupcakes, read some stories, color pictures together, or play toys with them the way they are always begging us to do. Sharing our religion with our children is important to us, so we also make sure to have some extended Bible time together with the kids right before bed. Once the kids are in bed, Orin and I relax downstairs (in our freshly cleaned house!) and play board games (we hadn’t done that in years!), talk, give each other back-rubs, or snuggle up and enjoy a movie. It is so nice to connect without the interruption of our phones and/or electronics. Sometimes we might have some friends over as well. We’ve actually only watched a movie together one night so far, and that was out of pure exhaustion. We’ve had so much fun doing other things together!
On Saturday we tend to have a lazy morning, followed by choosing something fun to take the kids out to do, whether it’s a trip to the park, the frozen yogurt place they love, or a bigger activity, like going to the museum. Our goal is just to make that time quality time we’re spending together.
Starting Shabbat in our home has been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. I really enjoy the close time we spend as a family now, our home is cleaner, and I’m living with a lot less mommy guilt these days. You’d don’t have to be Jewish or live in Israel to observe Shabbat — try it out for a month and I bet you won’t want to stop either!