Shabbat & Aging Parents

A majesty all its own.

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Reprinted with permission from JOFA, The Jewish Orthodox feminist Alliance.

The Shifting Shabbat Experience

Shabbat is a medium for telling the story of our lives. As we age, so do our Shabbat experiences mature. We move from charm and wonder to duty and discipline. Who does not remember the youthful joy of donning that new pair of patent leather Mary Janes and little white anklets, and the feel of a crisp new dress still smelling of the department store and then skipping to shul hand in hand with Mother or Father? These simple delights move naturally to youth group fun and then on to college-aged Shabbat expeditions and explorations.

After that, the “playing house” phase often naturally develops into the seasoned well-grooved, grown-up Shabbat experience of the auto-pilot cooking, planning, and inviting cycle--family times of tables regaled with divrei Torahzemirot, and the latest Susie Fishbein wonder--blessed perhaps with indulged children and grandchildren spilling and wreaking havoc to their hearts’ content.

These stages of Shabbat we could anticipate and expect, but who would have foreseen this next stage, complete with all its raw nuances? This is the stage of kibud, honor. I have joined those who sit sadly, faintly wiping away tears and biting lips to keep from crying, as we help a parent eat a Shabbat meal, forkful by forkful.

Shabbat Memories

Somehow, during the week, this very same table in the very same nursing home dining room does not evoke nearly the same emotion that it does on Friday night. No weekday fruit and cottage cheese platter or Shepherd’s pie can come close to summoning the angst of a beloved father navigating a tiny plastic medicine container holding grape juice for kiddush. In the public dining room of the nursing home, vanished is the grandeur and majesty--the noble stateliness of Shabbatot past. The memories hover accusingly, floating above us in billowy clouds with a Chagall-like twinkle, whispering overhead.

Could we but only draw them down: Hashivenu elekha venashuvah, hadesh yameinu kekedem--Return us to You and we will return: renew our days as of old. I wonder, are we really the same people? Am I that little girl entranced and enchanted by the magic of Friday night--hypnotized by the melodies pouring forth with drama and devotion from Father? Transported by the light of the candles and the sip of wine? Excited beyond words to share the Torah portion of the week? Sitting in a dining room chair far too big for me?

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Rivy  Poupko Kletenik

Rivy Poupko Kletenik is the head of school at the Seattle Hebrew Academy. She was awarded the 2002 Covenant Award for Outstanding Jewish Educators.