First in a Series of Eight Hanukkah Messages
By Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
Hanukkah in Hebrew means dedication. This festival commemorates the rededication of the desecrated Temple in Jerusalem after the victory of the Maccabees over Antiochus and his armies. Hanukkah became the festival symbolizing renewal and the persistence of the Jewish people in overcoming bitter historical setbacks. In this context I will share a vision of Shabbat with Friends as a form of renewal and rededication to Jewish life. I hope it will inspire you to participate in SWF gatherings and activities. I hope these daily Hanukkah messages will inspire you to include Shabbat with Friends NM with your end of the year contributions to deserving nonprofit organizations.
Hanukkah Message for the first day of Hanukkah, 25 Kislev.
After the traumatic events of October 7th, I worried about the relevance of this project called Shabbat with Friends. My vision for this initiative grew from a very strong desire to build community around the joyful spirituality of Jewish tradition. Was there a way to share a cental idea and practice of the Jewish way of life that would inspire people deeply? How could we regenerate passion about the Sabbath and Jewish learning among Jews in New Mexico?
The cruel horrors of October 7th brought back to the center of our focus the historic suffering of the Jewish people. The massacres and brutality touched our Jewish memories of the holocaust, of pogroms in the shtetl, of expulsions from the various stops on our Diaspora journeys. The shocking rise of antisemitism and the vilification of Israel absorbed our attention and stirred our rage and fear. The Israel-Gaza war took center-stage, opening a pandora’s box of differing views and intense disagreement.
How could we recapture the joy of Shabbat in this cauldron of anxiety and fear? Did it make any sense to try?
After 10/7, we cancelled our previously scheduled Shabbat with Friends Gatherings for the rest of October. We thought people would not be in the mood for singing, or for shared meals, or for Shabbat hospitality. We were concerned about gatherings becoming contentious. We feared that some of the deep divisions with the Jewish community would ooze at our gatherings and ruin the spirit of Shabbat that we seek to cultivate.
On Shabbat Vayera, which took place on the first weekend of November, we decided to organize a Shabbat with Friends gathering to get a sense of the local mood in the wake of the war. To my surprise, the gathering at the home of Shera Farkas, one of our most popular hosts, was deeply moving and comforting but in a more subdued way. The music shared by the Oneg Shabbos ensemble was more reflective and featured slower tempo Shabbat songs. There were a lot of children who joined us with their parents. One parent told me that Shabbat had become more important for her family as a peaceful time and a period free from the news. Another person attending told me of the sense of isolation he felt and how wonderful it was to be gathering with Jews in a familiar and intimate setting. He felt a sense of profound solidarity in sharing the Shabbat together, even though he did not know everyone in the room.
What I rediscovered at this Shabbat gathering and subsequent gatherings that Shabbat with Friends has held since, is that Shabbat is not only a time of joy, but also a day of comfort and consolation. There is a reason that Jewish law requires mourners to rise from shivah (the 7-day period of mourning) on the Sabbath. Not only do we suspend the mourning rituals on the Sabbath day, but we preserve the Sabbath rituals of shared meals, attending services with the community, the joys of sharing Shabbat with others. Suspending formal mourning on the Sabbath day is practiced as a way of experiencing the Sabbath day itself as consolation from the grief of mourning. It is a spiritual suspension.
During this time of crisis, worry, and fear, sharing Shabbat together is more important than ever. We are committed to suspending for a concrete period the collective anxieties of this traumatic moment in Jewish history. May our Shabbat gatherings offer us times for comfort, reflection, discussion, and solidarity.
During Hanukkah we focus on hope, renewal, and dedication. Please support the vision and the efforts of Shabbat with Friends with a donation. Click this link below to make a secure online donation to Shabbat with Friends before the end of 2023.
Thank you for your support,
Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
Convener, Shabbat with Friends.