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October 26, 2006

Live in the ‘hood: lingering Shabbat

http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/live_in_the_hood_lingering_shabbat_20061027

Pico-Roberston from above, courtesy of maps.google.com.  The green arrow is only on the photo, and does not appear in the actual intersection.

Pico-Roberston from above, courtesy of maps.google.com. The green arrow is only on the photo, and does not appear in the actual intersection.

I thought I understood the unique power of Shabbat, until I moved to the Pico-Robertson neighborhood a few months ago.

It's not like I'm a novice on the subject. For several years, in the late '80s and early '90s in Venice Beach, I was part of an eclectic band of yuppie frummies who made Shabbat a major happening (Shlomo Carlebach slept in my house!). And for more than a decade after that, in Pacific Palisades and in Beverly Hills, I participated in more than my fair share of Shabbatons, farbrengen tables, shiurims, melave malkas, you name it; we didn't just do Shabbat, we invited everyone to celebrate along with us.

So how is it possible that moving to a heavily Jewish neighborhood could change my perception of this one day that I thought I knew so well?

It hit me indirectly on the day after Sukkot, when I was invited to the neighbors for the first post-sukkah holiday meal. Someone made the comment that it was sad to see the sukkah now, because the magic was gone, and someone else added that that was precisely the point -- the sukkah was there to remind us of how transient life can be. Next year, the sukkah and its magic will come again, and it will go away again.

That, I realized, is pretty much how I've always seen Shabbat -- as a magical celebration that comes and goes every week.

I can tell you that in this neighborhood, Shabbat does not just come and go every week. In fact, it never really goes away. It's more like a state of mind, a way of life, an energy source.

You can probably imagine what the actual day of Shabbat looks like in this neighborhood. Time stops. A thousand strollers are out. On Pico Boulevard, shul goers walk with a sense of purpose to their respective shuls. Most of the stores are closed, and the car traffic is reduced, but you can still see that it's a major thoroughfare.

I feel the Shabbat energy more in the residential part of the hood. From certain Shabbat tables (I was in one of them), you can see and greet neighbors walking by (more and more, I hear Ashkenazim say "Shabbat Shalom" and Sephardim say "Good Shabbos" -- long live integration). Well-dressed families stroll along the quiet streets, adding a sense of dignity to the atmosphere. Kids play on the street, and on my block at least, most of the front doors stay open. Needless to say, the Shabbat feeling is everywhere.

But what I find especially revealing in this neighborhood is what happens after Shabbat -- the way the Shabbat energy overflows into the regular week. I spend a lot of time here during the week, and much of what I see and feel is similar to what I see and feel on Shabbat. The special restrictions -- like no driving -- are gone, of course, but the peaceful nature of Shabbat is still very much present.

You can feel this quiet energy that encourages you to keep certain Shabbat rituals going. Who needs video games and TV during the week? Why not have a few more get-togethers? Why not spend more time with the kids, or do more reading and, learning like we love to do on Shabbat?

It's a classic neighborhood dynamic. The people you eat, pray, learn and play with on Shabbat are often the same people you see everyday -- in one of the local shops, at a Torah class or just on the street. So the Shabbat memories are always fresh; they "live" with you throughout the week.

This phenomenon -- the lingering Shabbat -- is very alive in my new neighborhood.

And it can have as much, if not more power, than the day of Shabbat itself. Many of the Shabbats I had in the Diaspora (Pacific Palisades) were actually more intense than the ones I have in the hood. But when Sundays rolled around, boy would you feel the exile. Here, when Sunday arrives, Shabbat still "carries" you; all the familiar "Shabbat faces" are still walking around the neighborhood, as they do throughout the week. The friendly glow of Shabbat does not easily fade.

Some people might find this lingering Shabbat suffocating, others comforting. I actually find it helpful, because I like to be reminded of the Shabbat way: peaceful, joyous, unplugged. During the week, these "Shabbat moments" keep me centered, and help me navigate the uncertainties of life.

Because the source of power for the lingering Shabbat is the day of Shabbat itself, the weekly rhythm is critical. You're never more than a few days away from the big day. This anchors you. You celebrate some big ones -- Passover, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah, etc. -- once a year, but thanks to Shabbat, your weekly source of power is always right around the corner. When you leave a holiday celebration, and you say "see you next year" instead of "see you next week," that does not anchor you. It's more likely to just blow you away (literally), like a Super Bowl or an Academy Awards show might, until you get blown away again next year.

Shabbat, the way I experience it in this neighborhood, doesn't blow me away. It blows me in. I live it one day, then I feel it lingering around me all week long, and I better understand its elusive power.

To tell you the truth, I love the lingering Shabbat as much as I love Shabbat itself. I want more of it. I need more of it. I need the peacefulness that I taste on Shabbat to kick in on Wednesday morning, just before I'm tempted to yell at the kids because they're late for school; or on Thursday afternoon, just before I'm tempted to say something that might hurt my mother's feelings; or on Monday night, just before I plug in to the computer instead of plugging in to my kids.

The Kotzker Rebbe once explained that the commandment to keep the Shabbat also means that we should keep it with us at all times. Until I moved to the hood, I never totally understood what he meant.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is the founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

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