Last Friday, the Shabbat observant daughter and son-in-law of the recently inaugurated President Trump were shuttled by car back and forth from inauguration balls and parties to their new home in Georgetown.
That same night, I chose to fully observe Shabbat for the first time since my days at Jewish summer camp. 4 days earlier, I had arrived in Israel to study at Hebrew University, and with the time difference, Shabbat arrived just as the world turned its eyes to Washington, D.C. for the inauguration ceremony. If I were at home or at school, I would have live streamed the entire event, simultaneously miserable yet unable to look away. Instead, I decided to observe Shabbat. In the presence of new friends, I spent 25 hours free from technology, breaking news updates and anxiety. I spent the day focused on myself and my community.
I had not expected to spend the weekend at a kibbutz in Israel; I had anticipated spending the weekend in Washington, D.C., at the inauguration of Hillary Clinton, a woman whom I admire and respect. “Now you don’t have to go to your program late,” my mother told me on November 9th. I could not stop crying.
When I arrived in Israel last week, I felt a change to the uniquely Jewish way of tracking time; in Israel, every day of the week feels like a countdown to Shabbat. But while street vendors advertised their pastries and pre-made challah dough, January 20th approached, and my dread grew deeper. It was a busy week, during which I had little time to read the news, but ample time for quick reloads of my Twitter feed. The consensus in my liberal Internet bubble seemed clear: On Friday, the world as we know it will end (This only a slight exaggeration). But my friends in Israel weren’t thinking about America at all, let alone politics. Shabbat gripped them, too, from the moment we stepped off the plane at Ben-Gurion Airport.
To be sure, Shabbat was a constant part of my childhood, and it is a constant part of my life as an undergraduate. But beyond weekly Shabbat dinners, I never experimented with Shabbat observance within the confines of Jewish law. At Camp Ramah, keeping Shabbat (not using electricity and postponing letter-writing, among other commandments) was mandatory. But it will surprise no one to know that many campers hid their iPods under their pillows on Shabbat, and wrote letters under the covers, and took selfies when no one was looking. Certainly, during my 2 summers on staff, I never fully kept Shabbat; most of my friends didn’t, either (Sorry, Ramah). I always wondered how it would feel to fully disconnect.
Gripped with sadness after the election, I could barely read the news for weeks. I began to feel better when I read about the power of resistance, which ultimately brought millions of women and allies onto to the streets the day after the inauguration. So when I got to Israel and felt the pain of the impending inauguration of Donald Trump—a man whose deep-rooted hatred and nastiness run counter to the warm, inclusive Judaism that I love—I decided to resist in my own way.
I resolved not to sit in front of my computer crying on a Friday night in Israel. Since I couldn’t make it to Washington to march on the 21st, I decided instead to observe Shabbat. Otherwise, I knew, anxiety would creep in. I would feel compelled to leave Shabbat dinner early to watch the ceremony. But by choosing self-love—Shabbat—I felt okay. Rabbi Heschel once wrote that we must “learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of man.” Last Shabbat, I felt the world continue apace without me. It felt great.
I turned on my phone Saturday evening and pictures of joyous women at marches across the globe flooded my screen. I didn’t march next to them, but I understood their happiness. I felt it that day, too.