I am an Orthodox Jew. My family and I choose to observe the laws and teachings of the Torah (what some consider the Old Testament) by living meaningfully through forming a relationship with our Creator and our world in all our actions. All while my husband works in insurance, I reform my career as a therapist and a mom, and while watching Gilmore Girls reruns. On our bookshelf there are prayer books, Broadway playbills, and photo albums. This is to say, if you haven’t met an observant Jew before, we lead a similar life to many, maybe in more modest clothing, but just find us shmoozing at the local kosher burger joint or taking a stroll on Saturday with the kids.
Our sabbath (Shabbat) is from sundown Friday night through sundown Saturday. It is a spiritual, special time for our family to unplug devices and recharge what really matters. Simply, it is 25 hours of being truly present, finding meaning in what’s in front of us, and not feeling pulled to fix, work, or change anything in our regular daily lives. We as humans have a hard time saying “pause” in this ever-racing world. That’s why God worked this break into our routine. If I didn’t have it, I’d probably never stop, my husband would keep working, and we wouldn’t have a day to look around and feel gratitude for who we are and what we have. As many have used the phrase, “the Jews don’t keep the sabbath, the sabbath keeps the Jews.”
In order to take this break, we work hard during the week and follow some instructions to make sure our Shabbat brings about contemplation and rejuvenation. As a new mom of twins, I’ve had to recalibrate my Shabbat preparations as we took a steep dive into parenthood.
There are many types of prayers in Judaism for men and women to say. Morning blessings, prayer for circumstances (to heal the sick, to travel safely, to appreciate rainbows even!), and many more. I find prayer not rote statements of praise but a meditative time to be grateful for life, to speak from the heart, and find paths through tough spots by speaking deep Hebrew texts. As a mom of two tiny humans, I barely have time to go to the bathroom never mind connect to my inner voice! I was resentful that I couldn’t pray the way I’m used to. But I realized I pray even more now than I ever did and with two very big new meanings. While I rock my children, while I sing them to sleep, when I see the sunrise (after being awake for hours), I connect to my true self and to God. It’s different. But I know He hears me, no matter how I pray or what language i speak. This faith and humility in connection to a higher power is what is important to me.
Mentioned above, Judaism is a lifestyle of mindfulness, a phrase performed for the past 5,000 years but only now has become mainstream. To be mindful of your surroundings, your thoughts, and your actions is to be fully aware of your present state. Not only do we strive for this difficult task, but we hope to elevate even the way we make food to a spiritual level!
Keeping kosher has many regulations, but the overarching goal is to be “mindful” of where food comes from, how it’s prepared, and how it is eaten. When I make challah, the braided bread for Shabbat, I make sure the flour comes from a clean kosher company marked by a symbol on the packaging, and when kneading the dough, I keep in mind my beloved family and pray for those that need heath or money or love. Each ingredient, including the prayer, makes it all the more tastier and holier. That’s why grandmas soup tastes better than the store, because she made it with you in mind! We say a prayer over the bread: Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth. This notes, to even myself who physically made the bread and bought things from the store, that everything is a blessing given to us from the Creator; to recognize where food truly comes from (not just from isle three) and nothing is guaranteed, not even the food we eat. I am excited to teach not only the prayers and recipes to my twins, but the idea behind it all.
The Hebrew translation of Shabbat is “to cease.” We treasure this time provided to us where we are told not to create, but just to be. There are many guidelines for this. One law for Shabbat is to not to capture images. No videos or photos. But what if my twins giggles cutely or hugs their sibling in perfect lighting?! The whole idea of Shabbat is to be in the moment. So many moments are captured by our modern devices but not truly lived by the photographer as a part of the memory itself. This is an exercise we practice weekly. Not to scramble, “honey, grab the camera. she rolled!!!!” Or have the kids roll their eyes when you plead for them to rewind that adorable moment this time towards the iPhone. To indulge in the life we have and the children we are blessed to share it with is a magical, fleeting, and arduous task with modern technology and routine busy-ness in the way. We soak in memories into our brains and not just into Facebook.
Modest clothing is my favorite subject to talk about. I did not grow up in modest religious boundaries so I had to personally chose to grapple with and later appreciate why Orthodox Jews dress modestly. Let’s say for example, you are accepted for an interview directly with the CEO of the biggest company in the world. What do you wear to feel confident, respectful, and respected? The cut off jeans and tank top look or your finest tailored skirt with a covering cardigan? As Jews, we try to feel the beautiful weight of God surrounding us daily so we dress as if we are worthy of that big job interview. We do not negate the human form by wearing baggy clothes though! See the latest runway looks, many designers see the art in modest wear. I personally feel happier in covering clothes. I can express my inner self, not worry if the twins pull down a strap or two, and hold my head higher knowing I’m not dressing for anyone else but myself.
Modest rules are not just for women and not just about clothing. Men and women actively perform modesty by reserving touch only for their spouses, by thinking there is always something to be learned from anyone you meet, and by avoiding environments and scenarios that might make that big CEO fire you (you know what I mean). My husband wears a yarmulke on his head, that circular skull cap, everywhere he goes. This is a physical symbolic reminder to him that there is something higher than himself. Yarmulke translated: “awe of the king.” I too cover my hair. There is a long history of head coverings in many religions with the common thread of respect and awareness of a source larger than our heads can understand.
Shabbat is largely based around our synagogue and sharing meals with our friends in our homes. Since we cannot drive on Shabbat, all congregants live within walking distance. We are fortunate enough to have this built-in neighborhood of close friends where we share time, support, and resources. Shabbat forces me to prepare many things in advance, including the draining task of getting outside. I get to socialize with these moms my age. I have listening ears to commiserate on weekly motherhood montages, and have hands to cuddle the twins while I take a moment to be with my husband or go to the bathroom!
So much of twin parenthood is isolation and loneliness for parents. The Torah knows this, thus forming tight knit communities of generous souls keeping families grounded together and linked to love.
However you find time to “cease” by taking a step back from the grind to see the blessings in life through a religious lifestyle, through meditation or yoga, or even through a weekly game night, it is important for families’ physical, emotional, and spiritual health to reconnect to what is meaningful. This small window into how I rest is just only one way.
If you ask an Orthodox Jew a question, you will come to find many are extremely open about why we do things the way we do! I welcome you to a Shabbat dinner any time for more questions and to share in this beautiful world in which God can give us the gift of creating not just one life, but two at a time!
Molly Kessler is a clinical social worker, presenter, and writer in south Florida. Molly is married and currently working full time as a mom of almost six month old boy/girl twins. Molly enjoys everything from being an informal birth doula for friends to playing with puppies to photography. Molly is available for writing, speaking, and counseling upon request. Contact her at email@example.com. Also, check out her blog.
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