Saturday, October 2, 2010

Shabbat Shalom

By Susan Esther Barnes
with photos by Dinah Lang

"Shabbat shalom." It's what we say to each other on Friday night and on Saturday morning. We generally think of it as wishing each other "Sabbath peace," but it is more than that. The word shalom means not only peace; it also means wholeness. Because God made the world in six days and then rested on the seventh, on Shabbat we attempt to rest as well, and to act as if the world is peaceful and whole and perfect just the way it is.

Last Friday evening I arrived at the synagogue as usual, about 45 minutes before services start. A couple of years ago, I was the only person standing at the front door greeting people as they arrived.

On this particular night, as on most Friday nights, Jeff greeted people at the top of the stairs, as did Ken. Judith stood at the sanctuary doors handing out the sheets with announcements and the list for the Mourner's Kaddish. Ralph helped to serve the wine, and later, as the sanctuary filled up, helped to make sure those sitting in the back had prayer books. Greeting on Friday nights is no longer something I do alone.

After services, we walked to the JCC next door for the community dinner the synagogue hosts, free of charge, on the first Friday of each month. After making sure the majority of the people were settled, I found a seat next to a couple I know. It turns out I spent most of the meal talking to the couple on the other side of the table, who I didn't know before.

This has happened to me before. I sit down to eat with people I don't know, and by the end of the meal I have new aquaintances, who greet me by name at services in the following weeks and months.

On the occasions when Dan Nichols plays at first Friday night services, after the dinner he leads "Shabbat Unplugged" at a congregant's home. Aviva and I used to both go to these evenings separately, but now we go together. Another friend send me an email Friday afternoon asking if she could carpool there with me that night. At dinner, two others joined us, so we ended up with five people jammed into my car. This is no longer an event I go to alone.

Imagine about 40 people, jammed into a living room. At first, it's like any weekend party, with people chatting while we snack on cookies or fruit and drink beverages. It's 10 pm when the instruments come out and the singing starts. That's when everything changes.

We sing in Hebrew. We sing in English. We sing without words, and sometimes we just hum. We sing about God and shalom, about peace and togetherness. We ask God if she can hear us sing; we ask for our lives to feel the echo of our praying.

At some point, Dan stops and begins to speak about how, during the week, our parents or partners or children tell us we're not doing well enough. He knows sometimes our boss at work tells us we're not doing well enough. He reminds us we all tell ourselves we're not doing well enough.

Tonight, it is Shabbat. The music is sweet. Words cannot describe the intense beauty of the harmonies as our voices blend togther. There is no such thing as one of us not singing well enough.

Dan points out, in case it is possible for any of us to have missed it, that in this moment, we are tasting the World to Come. In this room, at this time, there is peace. There is wholeness. Everyone here is not just a part of it, but is a necessary part. In this moment, right now, the world and everything in it is perfect.

Shabbat shalom.

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