It's what we say to each other when Shabbat ends on Saturday night.
This Shabbat was pretty awesome. Let me tell you why, working backwards from tonight.
3. Spending a relaxing evening at home with my Sweetie. Mellow, cozy bliss.
2. Shabbes nap. Yes, I know, napping in the middle of a day is supposedly not good for you, and messes up your internal clock, and blah-blah-blah. However, it's also a delicious feeling to lie down in the middle of the afternoon for an hour simply because you can. And on Shabbat, I can do that. (Plus, I'm making up for the hour of sleep I'll lose later tonight when we set the clocks ahead for Daylight Saving Time.)
1. Off-The-Grid Shabbat service and Bar Mitzvah celebration. This morning, I was honored and blessed to be a part of one family's -- no, strike that, an entire community's -- Shabbat. The Bar Mitzvah, no longer a boy but a young man of sixteen, had studied Hebrew with the only Hebrew-literate person in his tiny northeastern Washington town, had learned to read Torah and Haftarah, had written a drash, and he and his family came to Portland to celebrate (because grandma doesn't travel as easily anymore). But that wasn't enough, because easily half of this kid's high school class and some of their parents came along to celebrate, too. The back five rows of seats were filled mostly with teens. And none of them were Jewish. This guy's the only Jewish kid in his high school, and his family is the only Jewish family in their little town of 1,100 people. That town is 130 miles from Spokane, the closest city with a Jewish community. So of course, they're not affiliated anywhere.
But it seems to have worked out just fine for them.
When the family approached me to facilitate their services as a cantorial soloist, I asked the question I always ask of off-the-grid students: "Who is your community?"
It's an important question. because, as I explain to each family, Judaism doesn't happen in a vacuum. So if your simcha (celebration) is four people in a hotel room, I probably can't help you. But if your simcha is taking place in a communal context that you can articulate to me, then we're on the same page and we can move forward.
The family told me their story. The kids (there's an older sister who celebrated her Bat Mitzvah several years ago) grew up in this tiny town, where they were embraced by the community. The kids taught their friends some of the Hebrew they were learning in preparation for their B'nei Mitzvah, and the family created community Chanukah parties in the parish hall of the local church, and Mom taught the kids about Judaism as expressed through tikkun olam -- repairing the world by helping others.
And so we began putting together a Shabbat service. Mom assembled a siddur, cutting and pasting pieces copied from a traditional prayerbook and interspersing them with other lovely readings. We selected music and I clarified the order of how things ought to go. And finally, I got a sneak-peek of the drash so that I wouldn't inadvertently steal the Bar Mitzvah's thunder in my introductory remarks.
There were probably close to 70 people gathered in the room at the hired hall, and tables were laden with food they had made and brought in. Everyone was excited and happy.
Extended family came from all over to celebrate -- New York, Chicago, L. A. -- and whenever I led a song they joined in enthusiastically -- but so did some of the high-schoolers in the back rows!
Afterwards, while people ate lunch and greeted each other, I had a great time meeting everyone and seeing their joy. One nice touch: On every table at lunch was an unglazed terracotta tray, made in the shape of Aaron's breastplate. In each of the twelve panels lay a polished piece of jasper or a tiny glass bottle with paper inside.
The jasper was for the Bar Mitzvah's first name -- a connection he alluded to in talking about his Torah portion.
The bottle contained "leftovers" from all the cutting and pasting of photocopies of prayers during the making of the siddur. Since of course there's no geniza (burial place for sacred Jewish texts to worn out to use anymore) in a rural Washington town with only one Jewish family, Jasper's mom Janine decided that she couldn't just toss them -- you can't throw out a blessing, after all -- so she saved them and invited each of the guests to take a blessing home with them. A brilliant idea!
At the end of lunch as I was getting ready to leave, I was invited to help myself to one of the trays and a piece of Jasper. I took a blessing, too. Because you never know when you'll need a spare blessing.
It was a beautiful morning, where a community got to show their love for, and pride in, one of their own young people as he celebrated a milestone in his life. And I was absolutely honored to be invited to be a part of that.
Jasper, thank you so much for inviting me to meet you and your family and your community, and to share in the joy of this day with you. I hope that wherever you go from here, you have an excellent life. Based on what I saw and heard today, you have a whole town behind you, cheering you on and supporting you wherever you decide to go. And that is a precious gift.
I remain committed to the ideal that lack of affiliation should not be a barrier to accessing and creating a Jewish life and walking a Jewish path. Owning your Judaism is possible no matter where you are or how you come to it. Here's a family that proved it today, and in so doing they beautifully reaffirmed why I'm doing what I do. It was a total joy to celebrate with them.
I look forward to the next call I get from someone wanting a little help so that they can "do Jewish" -- whether it's a wedding, a baby-naming, B'nei Mitzvah or other special moment -- to create a living and vibrant Judaism for themselves and their loved ones.
Have a lovely week.