Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
We are walking along a busy, suburban street that runs mostly parallel to the highway connecting our town to the city immediately to our east. The sidewalk begins at the bridge over Willeo Creek, which is the county line. As the road curves slightly northward, taking us away from home, I wonder if I’m leading my son on the wrong path.
We are walking more than 6 miles, early on a Saturday morning, because he attended his Middle School dance on Friday night at the independent, non-denominational school, which we chose over the Jewish day school, which values diversity and accommodates our needs as one of the only shomer shabbat families in its community. The administration always consults me before planning overnight trips in the fall and spring to ensure they will not coincide with Sukkot and Passover, and the Eighth Grade Recognition Ceremony held on Friday morning does not interfere with Jewish or Muslim religious services. The end-of-the-year dance is neither mandatory nor a school-sponsored celebration; and, although it’s only a party hosted by parents, my son doesn’t want to miss it. I can’t really blame him.
Still, I feel like I’m walking along a tightrope this morning. My left hand reaching back to grasp the tradition of my ancestors as my right hand extends toward the wider, secular world in which we live, I am barely maintaining my balance.
What message am I giving the school community about our family’s commitment to Jewish values? What message am I giving my son, who only recently became a Bar Mitzvah, about the centrality of Shabbat observance in our family’s life? My fear, as a mother and rabbi, is that I have failed to fill his soul with the living waters of Torah to sustain him in adulthood, even as I have filled his Nalgene bottle in preparation for this morning’s walk.
We began our trek in companionable silence, both exhausted from staying up later than usual on Friday night, from sleeping on the floor at the home of a friend who lives closer to school, from rising early to arrive home in time for Shabbat lunch. Now, when we’re nearly two-thirds of the way home and heading toward a half-mile stretch of narrow but shaded sidewalk, I gather the courage to ask him what he thinks about this compromised Shabbat.
Stumbling over my words as I attempt to impart wisdom while hiding my ambivalence, I tell him I realize he will have to make his own choices about Jewish ritual observance as he becomes an adult. I tell him I decided to observe the Sabbath when I was in college and searching for a sense of peace and wholeness in my life. I suggest a song to capture the Shabbat spirit:
“I’m in the mood for Rebbe Nachman’s Gesher tzar m’od.”
“Okay, you start us off,” he answers.
The whole world is a narrow bridge; the essential thing is not to be afraid at all.
As parents, we accompany our children on a path we choose for them until they choose another. For now, my son and I walk together on this Shabbat morning, along this narrow sidewalk. We are singing, and I am not afraid.
Pronounced: shuh-BAHT or shah-BAHT, Origin: Hebrew, the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.