Torah Musings: Just One Shabbos


Just One Shabbos

Sarah Pachter

Grab a yoga mat then try this: Lay face-down with your arms out in front of you. Have someone lift your arms for half a minute while your eyes are completely closed. Have that person lower your arms slowly toward the ground.

What do you feel? Do you feel as though your arms are floating through the floor? Kind of cool, kind of spooky—right?

Try it with your child, niece, nephew, or grandchild. They will love it. I, too, loved this game when I was a child. In fact, it is the reason I started keeping Shabbos.

Huh? You might wonder.

When I was nine years old, attending public school, my older sister was in the eighth grade attending a private school called St. Francis. Our family members were traditional, Sephardic Jews. We didn’t attend synagogue regularly, but we lit candles and said kiddush on Friday nights. We kept a semblance of kosher in the house, making sure to only eat McDonald’s on our deck!

How did a family like ours decide to keep Shabbat? As the famous song goes, “Just One Shabbos.”

My sister had a friend who would be attending the local, Jewish high school in the fall. Being the token Jew in her class, my sister regularly bore the brunt of anti-Semitic comments from her classmates. Because of this, she desperately wanted to attend the Jewish school with her friend. My parents were initially reluctant, but after experiencing my sister’s powers of persuasion, they relented.

Once my sister was in a Jewish school, the principal of the school invited our family to spend an entire Shabbat in his home.

I remember overhearing my parents’ reaction to this invitation. My father, a proud Frenchman, adamantly refused. In French culture, no one would dare sleep in another’s home, for it just wasn’t done. My mother, a sweet, hospitable Southerner herself, felt like it could be interesting.

Mom won, and we went. We practiced one full Shabbat in their home, from start to finish.

Just after our first real Shabbat, my parents called a family meeting.

They asked us what we thought about keeping Shabbat regularly. I distinctly remember my response. “Why don’t we try just not watching TV for a few weeks and then maybe try not turning on lights or something? Let’s do this slowly.” (To this day, I still believe small choices can lead to big results. Hence the name of my book, Small Choices, Big Changes.)

However, my parents were ready for a larger jump. Despite my reservations, I was willing to acquiesce. The reason I became excited was because the Shabbat had been so much fun for me. The Rabbi’s children, although significantly older than I was, were friendly and included me in their games. They never made me feel less than because I was younger. They showed me that arm trick I mention at the beginning of my article, put on performances, and played board games.

My willingness to keep Shabbos was in large part because of them. Because of their kindness, they changed life’s trajectory for one person—me.

Of course, growth amongst our family members was slow, and we certainly did not do everything perfectly. But we learned, little by little.

People are often surprised when I tell them that our observance came from “just one Shabbos.” But it is our truth. There are two lessons that I have gleaned from this experience. The first is that one Shabbos can truly transform a person’s life—or even a family’s.

Years later, I contacted the family that invited us that week and told them how they impacted the course of our lives. They were shocked, having moved cities shortly after our experience together. They’d had no idea how their actions would shape the course of my life.

The second lesson that I look back on, is the positive impact children can have on one another. When my son, Josh, was six years old, there were a few older boys that were friendly to him that he looked up to. They made him feel a part of their group, and Josh truly felt he was their friend.

Now, years later, my son is that “older boy” to many younger children we know. I try to instill in Josh just how important it is to include them, to make them feel like he wants to be hanging out with them. What an older child can do for the self-esteem and joy of a younger child is immeasurable.

One Shabbos can change a person. One child’s act can change another’s life and can inspire them to pay it forward. Try it, just once, and see what happens.