Monday, January 31, 2005

Day 6 - Shabbat

The last minute preparations and the mad dash for the shower are familiar; the similarities end there. Shabbat spent away from home and your loved ones is a depressing experience, especially when you're stuck on an army base.

Friday morning, my amazing wife made arrangements to drop off a care parcel at the roadblock that we're holding - home baked cookies and challot, fruit and an English language newspaper - all to try to make my Shabbat a little more homely. One of the local yishuvim also sends a care parcel for all of us - cakes, biscuits and dried fruit - their way of letting us know that we're appreciated. It's an inescapable fact however - we're stuck in our uniforms on the base, in my case when my wife is only a 15 minute drive away spending shabbat with friends - and it's lonely.

To make matters even worse, the weather is gloomy with rain falling fairly constantly and although I don't have to be outside too much, it further darkens my mood.

I head to the small synagoge on the base to say Friday night prayers with a bunch of like minded souls - they're a mixture of Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews and the service reflects the fact that people from such different backgrounds are familiar with different tunes and orders of service - an uninspiring mish-mash is the result. One of the participants is an educator and he gets up to say a few words about the weeky Torah reading but I tune out, concentrating on my own misery. The service ends and we head back to our separate rooms to wait for the evening meal.

As I approach the dining hall, rain dripping inside the collar of my khaki army jacket, I hear the feint sound of singing which gets louder as I approach. I have a warm tingly feeling going through my body as I enter the hall to find a dozen uniformed men, M16s slung over their shoulders, singing "Shalom Aleichem", the traditional Friday night refrain.

There is a saying that "more than the Jewish people have kept the Shabbat, the Shabbat has kept the Jewish people" - at that moment, I appreciate more than ever what this means. The powerful bond that I share with this group of people - my people, has helped to keep the Jewish people strong over the centuries, despite the tribulations we have been through.

I join the singing and we segue into "Eishet Chayil" - a song of praise to the Jewish woman. I find myself choked with emotion, singing at the top of my voice as I share a Shabbat rite with a disparate group of people, all of them my Jewish brothers, most of whom I've never spoken two words to.

And it feels like Shabbat, even if just for a moment....


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