As I have written about here, I have started taking my sons on approximately once-a-month family Shabbat sleepovers to religious neighborhoods in Los Angeles. We stay with friends/acquaintances who aren’t intimidated by the fact that we’re vegan, my sons bring along their little travel KidKits, and we learn about another family and how they celebrate Shabbat.
This past weekend, we had our Shabbat sleepover in a very religious neighborhood. Like even more religious than I am used to, which you would probably describe as Moderate Modern Orthodox. This was not that. Everyone was very nice and welcoming, and I didn’t feel unwelcome at all, but it was very different from what I’m used to. It was more like ultra-Orthodox. Streimels, you know, those big furry black hats. And I might have been the only woman I saw with my hair peeking out from under my tichel (headscarf), since all of the women in this neighborhood wear expensive sheitls (wigs) or hats with no hair showing.
Here are the Top 7 Things I learned this past weekend.
1. Heads Up. Some women never uncover their heads. Like ever. Meaning: they even sleep with their heads covered. There’s a whole reason, it’s not just someone misunderstanding the rules of halakha (Jewish law). The woman who described it to me is a very educated, smart, and interesting person. I had never met someone who never uncovers her head except in the shower, literally. Fascinating.
2. Candy. There is a lot of candy handed out in certain shuls (synagogues)! I am not trying to make sweeping generalizations or claim that all religious people love handing out candy, but we could not get away from it! It was practically tucked into the siddurs (prayer books), it was coming out of the wood panelling of the hallways, and it was being dispensed in the bathrooms it seemed. It was really pervasive! My boys had one sourish candy thing and they didn’t seem interested in much more. But I saw plenty of kids ankle deep in candy in this shul. I know for some people, it makes Shabbat “sweet” to give sweet things, and I definitely loosen the nutritional reigns on Shabbat, but I am just not so into giving kids lots of candy, so that wasn’t really my thing.
3. Cooperation. It’s good for my sons (who are 5 and 8) to meet and interact with new kids and new adults, too. The house we stayed at had three boys and they got along great. We went to a house for lunch with an older boy who was rowdier than my boys are used to, and so they stuck close to me. And that’s OK. There were a few falls, a few unexpected excited (and sometimes not excited) shouts from other children which elicited crying from my younger sensitive son, and there were also some really neat moments of tension and kids working things out as they played and negotiated space.
4. Jewish Education. Over this Shabbat, my sons got to see a lot of different men and women make kiddush, wash hands over different kinds of sinks, bless challahs, and recite the Birkat Hamazon. Their Jewish landscape grew and got added to. It may not always have looked like it does in my house or their father’s, but that’s OK too. There are so many different kinds of Jews, and it’s as important for me to foster tolerance and open-mindedness as it is to foster devotion to and respect for Judaism.
5. Meat. The house we stayed at wasn’t vegan, but there was plenty of delicious food for us to eat. I don’t insist that others not eat meat when we are present, and there was indeed meat at the meals we ate at. My sons are not judgmental of others who don’t eat like us, and they don’t make “eewww” faces when they see a hunk of meat or an egg. I am glad I have raised them with a healthy notion of what we eat and why, but I am also glad that I haven’t had to do it at the expense of others’ choices, even if I wouldn’t eat the way they do–and they wouldn’t likely eat the way we do!
6. Good Clean Fun. Besides the fact that I don’t use electronics or computers on Shabbat and besides the fact that I don’t show my kids TV at all, we stayed in a home that also respects those laws of Shabbat and we had a ton of fun anyway. Before the sun set, all muktzeh toys were put away; that is: toys that have batteries or are prohibited on Shabbat. We ate, we sang, we had the kids answer questions about this week’s Torah portion, and we asked them questions about it. We did some impromptu Israeli folk dancing, and we never ever ever ran out of things to do or say or play with. Shabbat has a lot of restrictions, sure. But it also opens so many doors because of the types of play and creativity and togetherness-time it encourages.
7. It’s All Going To Be OK. Bob Marley sings, “Don’t you worry about a thing. Every little thing is going to be alright.” This has been a heck of a year and as a newly divorced mom, almost every day is more complicated than I ever thought it would be. But with the help of friends, and a growing community of support, and with the gift of my sons’ graciousness and patience and love when I feel like I don’t remember how to be gracious and patient and loving, it will be OK.
And if we have to live one Shabbat sleepover at a time for now, so be it. Because it really was OK, and it really is all going to be alright.
Photo via Flickr/slgckgc