The Reason Why Shabbat is so Important to Me [birthright story]

I’m not a religious person – I actually don’t think that I believe in God or in religion per say – but, I am obsessed with my culture and its traditions. I feel like I wrote about this on the blog already but just for the sake of repeating myself, the only aspect of the religion that I’m interested in is the traditions, which is why shabbat means a lot to me.

For those who don’t know, shabbat is a resting day in the Jewish religion. It starts on Friday at night and lasts for 25 hours in total. It’s usually a time when families all come together to have supper and relax all while reflecting on the week that just finished.

Shabbat has been a part of my life since forever – either celebrating it with family, at school or at camp. I loved doing it at camp because it was fun to just get ready with the girls before lighting up the candles (the candles are the start of shabbat) and then you meet up with all your friends to do the prayer and finally feast.

Funny enough, doing shabbat at camp and doing it on birthright felt very similar – I didn’t notice any difference at all. But still, experiencing it on this trip was something that I will never forget.

So, let me take you back to that first shabbat we had on birthright. We were coming back to our hostel after a long day of ‘rafting the Jordan River.’ I must say, rafting is a strong word because we just kept on getting stuck in the branches while bunch of random locals were camping/partying by the side of the river looking at us like we were clowns who didn’t know how to navigate a rafting boat – it was great!

As I was saying, we were coming back from that really fun day and on the bus, my trip leader Witnee asked who wanted to be in a shabbat committee (there was the blessing of the candles committee, the blessing of the bread committee and finally the blessing of the wine committee). I decided to volunteer for the candle lighting committee. I’m not too sure why I chose to participate in that particular one but I just had a gut feeling that this was the one I had to be in.

Once we came back to the hostel I went to my room and got all shabbat ready and made my way with my friend Nicole to the meeting place. We all got into our committees and Witnee eventually came to mine and asked what does lighting the candles meant to us. Everyone said a little thing and here’s the story that I shared with the group:

“A few years ago, one of my closest friend joined the Israeli army during a very dangerous time in Israel. Some of my friends and I were very worried for him as we wouldn’t get many updates from him and therefore we decided to think of him when we would light candles for shabbat. Since then, whenever I do it, I always like to think of someone close to my heart and personally wish that this person has a great and successful week to come.”

I was impressed with how open I was with my story but then again – I am sharing it here as well so it’s not that surprising that I did it so openly a few months ago. Witnee seemed to really like it and she said “that was a great story Nelly, now you can tell it to everyone tonight”

OH WAIT SORRY WHAT?! “What do you mean by everyone and tonight,” is what I answered her – to which she replied “oh yeah, this was just a little practice run, we are doing the shabbat service in front of the two birthright groups tonight.”

Two birthright groups80 people.

I was already having some social anxiety (which is ironic for someone who seems to be so social) so the thought of speaking in front of 80 random people that probably didn’t care that much about my story – well, it frightened me quite a bit. The only way that I was able to calm down was when I realized that the other people in my group and the other groups were probably feeling the same way – and that made me feel better somehow.

Also, knowing that I had one family member to rely on if I looked like a fool also reassured me. *My cousin Jacob was on the same birthright trip as me.

The time eventually came through for us to start the service and I was obviously the last one to speak from my group (#BestForLast? Lol kidding). I was pretty shocked though when I started to speak because my voice wasn’t trembling as I was worried it would. I actually was super calm and instead of focusing on the people I didn’t know – I was focusing on the ones that I got to know a little bit in the last two days. And you know what? It all went soooo fine. I actually loved it.

After the ceremony, people came to me saying that they really appreciated that I spoke so openly about it in a not religious way – basically that the reason that I do light candles is because of pure friendship and volunteerism rather than religion telling me to do so.

We all went for supper after and as I was getting my food, a person from my group that I hadn’t really spoken to on the trip came to thank me and I would see that they (I don’t want to say if it’s a boy or a girl out of privacy for them) were being very emotional, so I took that person outside of the room to hear their story which was similar to mine. They eventually told me that I was the first person they felt connected to on the trip due to the way I shared my story which really meant a lot to me. Knowing how I impacted someone and how in return they impacted me made me realize that I wanna keep on sharing more and have more positive impacts on other people – just how some have had a great impact on me.

Maybe that person is one of the reason why I decided to pursue more seriously a career in blogging/creating content now that I think about it because, truly, to see that I had an impact on their emotions made me very happy.

This whole shabbat experience also pushed me to do shabbat more often – or whenever possible. Now though, as I am gonna move in my first apartment next week, I decided that I will trying very hard to do shabbat every Friday as I’m realizing how much it means to me for many more reasons than just the candles now.

xo, TheModMisfit. 

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