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30 Days, 30 Texts: ‘Preparing for the Sabbath’

In celebration of Jewish Book Month, The Arty Semite is partnering with the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA) and the Jewish Book Council to present “30 Days, 30 Texts,” a series of reflections by community leaders on the books that influenced their Jewish journeys. Today, Shifra Bronznick writes about “Preparing for the Sabbath” by Nessa Rapoport.

Many of the most heartfelt experiences I have enjoyed over the years took place on Shabbat — long lasting meals and lively conversations, birthday celebrations and graduations, encounters with guests I knew only superficially who became intertwined with my life. So many people filled my table; at so many tables, I found a place.

In this age where people record everything in delicious and sometimes agonizing detail, my most powerful cumulative memories are stored in my “Shabbat camera.” Since I do not use a real camera on Shabbat, I instead click my fingers together, and imprint memories on my heart, keep tastes on my tongue, and narrate stories in my soul.

Re-reading Nessa Rapoport’s “Preparing for the Sabbath” makes me feel as though I can download all of the images of my Shabbat camera from the 1970s. We were in our 20s then, and it all mattered so much: religion, romance, feminism, fun, the sacred and the quotidian. In Rapoport’s intoxicating portrait of Judith, the heroine’s Judaism is embedded in her everyday speech and her spiritual passion. Judith’s Judaism both captivates her and holds her captive; it sometimes conflicts with her feminism, and yet it is so deeply intertwined that you can’t tell which is the root and which is the blossom.

Judith’s ardent yet contradictory feelings for Jewishness, spirituality, politics and feminism provoked us all back then, towards acts of creativity and love: inventing the Jewish counter culture, building the Jewish student movement, creating Jewish feminism, and establishing chavurot. Just about everything at that time and at that age — the yearning, the ambition, the malaise, the grandiosity, the romance of friendship and the power of love — it is all revealed and remembered in this book — a book that dared to be a bildungsroman for Jewish women in search of god, love, equality and loyalty.

Shifra Bronznick, the President of Advancing Women Professionals & the Jewish Community, is the co-author of “Leveling the Playing Field.” A consultant who specializes on helping organizations and leaders navigate change, she is a senior fellow at NYU Wagner’s Research Center for Leadership in Action.

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