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Shabbat On-the-Go

May 9, 2009 | by

Occasion to be in a hotel, hospital, or deserted island for Shabbat? Take along our comprehensive list.

It's bound to happen. There are going to be times when Shabbat must be spent by choice, or not by choice, away from your home environment. Examples include a hospital stay, hotel, camping, visiting family or friends, and traveling abroad.

These can be opportunities to explore Shabbat creatively, but they can also be fraught with a certain amount of concern and challenge. When you've managed to pull it off and keep Shabbat under these circumstances, you feel as if you've really accomplished something! The whole thing can be a big adventure and a refreshing change of pace, as long as everyone has a positive attitude and a certain amount of preparation is done ahead. Some do's, don't's and helpful hints follow.

Check with a local rabbi or Kashrut Council regarding reliable regional kosher symbols you have to watch for on food packages (for example, CRC in Chicago, COR in Toronto).

There is usually a network of families who keep Shabbat in every town. Contact the local Jewish organizations to plug into it if you need home hospitality or just have questions.

Check-List for Shabbat On-the-Go

1. Candles. Even if you light several at home, the custom when away is to light two. There are special traveling candlesticks that compactly screw together (can be purchased at most Jewish book and gift stores), or just melt the candles on some foil. Don't forget the matches! (See Hospital Stay for lighting alternatives.)

2. Small bottle of wine or grape juice. Grape juice can also be found in "tetra packs" that need no refrigeration-great for camping or traveling abroad.

3. Kiddush cup. It's nice to have a special cup, but in a pinch, any cup will do as long as it's not something disposable. (See page 24 for size requirements.)

4. Challah. Remember, you can use buns, bagels, matzot, and the like (two whole "loaves" times three meals equals six "loaves" -maximum! You can get by with four, using one as the rotating "second loaf" at each meal).

5. Challah cover. It's nice to have something appropriate like a real cover, but a nice doily or napkin is just as good. In a pinch, use a paper napkin, tissue, and so forth.

6. Salt -- to dip the challah in after Ha-motzi. Use little packets supplied in restaurants.

7. Knife to cut the bread. Or just tear it!

8. Hot plate or one-burner stove -- to keep the food warm (may not be allowed in hotels). Bring extra foil paper to fashion a small blech. It's nice to have hot food, but one "cold" Shabbat never hurt anyone. Try having something hot Friday night (heating it up, then turning the source of heat off just before candle lighting); and a cold meal Shabbat day-cold cuts, or dairy.

9. Vacuum-packed food. Most kosher restaurants can supply this upon request.

10. Facial Tissues.

11. A "curly scrubber" -- for washing dishes.

12. Appropriate reading material. It's nice to have something in the spirit of Shabbat, especially since being in a strange environment can distract you from the feeling that this is Shabbat.

13. Havdalah candle. Or simply use two regular candles held together.

14. Plastic cutlery.

15. Masking tape -- to tape lights on or off.

16. "Zipper" baggies -- for leftovers. (Get the kind that are not attached, since you may not tear the perforations and separate them on Shabbat.)

17. Thermos -- to hold hot water. A pump type keeps water hot throughout Shabbat.

18. Small packages of powdered nondairy creamer. (Open them before Shabbat to avoid tearing letters.)

19. Paper napkins or pre-torn paper towels -- for easy cleanups.

Hospital Stay

These are the general rules for observing Shabbat in a hospital. However, in case of a life or death situation, the laws of Shabbat are, of course, put aside.

1. Most hospitals will not let you light candles in your room. Some who have a large Jewish clientele will provide candlesticks that light up when you plug them in. This is perfectly acceptable, just say the blessing after you "light" them, as usual.

If there is no such service, use an electric light. Just turn it on and say the blessing. Your nurse can shut it off for you before you retire.

If you have had a baby or have had surgery in the past 72 hours, you can ask the nurse to do it directly. If not, you can ask indirectly -- for example, "It's hard for me to sleep with the light on." They usually catch on.

2. It is a good idea to let hospital staff know that you are observing the Jewish "Sabbath." Either they will be aware from past experience what to expect or they will be fascinated and be open to your explaining what it all means (we hope!).

3. Choose your food menus ahead of time (kosher is almost always available).

Ask for extra rolls with your meals for Ha-motzi and have on hand (if you planned ahead) grape juice for kiddush (otherwise ask a friend or family member to bring you some before Shabbat).

4. Let your roommate know about the "sabbath" and that you will not be answering the phone until Saturday night. Be as light about it as possible, so as not to scare anyone. Again, experience shows that people are more than respectful.

5. Anything that requires your signature, unless it is a life-or-death situation, can almost always be done before Shabbat or postponed until afterwards. Do not be afraid to be assertive when you are given "these are the rules" objections.

6. Make sure you have reading material to pass the day away, as TV and radio might be missed if you are confined to bed.

A Jewish book, especially something on Shabbat, will help you focus on the fact that this is really Shabbat. Don't forget a bentcher with all of the blessings for kiddush, and so forth.

7. Ask your roommate if it is all right to keep the bathroom light on during the "sabbath" as you would like to refrain from turning lights on and off, and so forth.

8. Make sure tissues are on hand in the bathroom.

9. If you have had a baby or have had surgery within the last 72 hours, you are considered in the category of a "critically ill" patient and thus are allowed to do melacha, (non-Shabbat activities such as turning on lights) i f necessary in order to fully care for yourself medically. If at any time from 72 hours until 7 days after birth a doctor or patient feels a definite need for medical care, then the patient remains in the critically ill category.

10. Let the nurse know that you will not be able to buzz for her assistance unless it is an emergency. They are usually very agreeable to dropping by periodically to check to see if you need anything.

11. In any case of danger of life, you can do anything-drive, phone, buzz a nurse-anything!

12. Ask questions of your rabbi ahead of time, and speak to your doctor regarding your desire to observe Shabbat while in the hospital.

13. If your husband or wife lives out of walking distance, find out through your rabbi or local Jewish organization if a Bikkur Cholim apartment is available near the hospital. These are run by local support groups that make sure people who are ill, or recovering from childbirth, receive food, help, and so on. These are apartments equipped with food and Shabbat items (candlesticks, and so forth) that are made available for situations such as these.

If there is no such service, find out if there are Shabbat-observant families living within walking distance with whom your spouse can stay. People are usually more than happy to open their homes to guests.

Staying at a Hotel

Hotels present some challenges on Shabbat:

1. Beware of hotels that use electric "pass keys" to open room doors. These are prohibited on Shabbat, as they function through electrical connections.

2. Many doorways in and out of the hotel, as well as within the hotel, open and close electrically (for example, automatic sliding glass doors). Avoid these, as they are also prohibited on Shabbat.

3. When booking, request a room on a low floor so that the elevator can be avoided.

4. Do any signing ahead of time (when registering, and the like).

5. Many reliable authorities say that escalators may be used as they run automatically. Elevators and electric doors require you to start and stop them, and thus are to be avoided on Shabbat.

6. Inform the front desk that you will be observing the Jewish Sabbath. Ask them to take all phone messages and not to call your room for wake-ups, and so forth.

Visiting Family and Friends Who Do Not Observe Shabbat

This is always a challenge. But, it is bound to happen, so let's approach it the best way we know how.

1. Try to avoid being in this situation (unless it is family).

2. If there is no alternative, decide to make it the most positive experience for you and your hosts (especially if it's family!)

3. Bring all the necessary Shabbat items with you (see list page 107).

4. Discuss unscrewing the light bulb ahead of time so that you can access the refrigerator.

5. Try to involve those around you in Shabbat without imposing anything on them (a neat trick). Hints include making a nice Friday night meal with kiddush, and so forth. If people are open to it, help them wash for bread, and so on. Don't make anyone do anything that would make him or her feel negative or uncomfortable.

Shabbat day, those around you may be watching TV, answering the phone, going shopping, and so on. Don't lecture them on the evils of breaking Shabbat (you wouldn't want anyone to do it to you). Just be positive in your own level of observance, and, chances are, they will notice, ask questions, and want to join you in certain things.

6. Let them know in advance that you appreciate their concern, but you would prefer if they don't do things for you such as turn on or off lights, make you a coffee, and so forth.

7. Make sure you have some Jewish reading material to help you remember that it is Shabbat.

8. Walk to a Shabbat-observant family on Shabbat day if it's not too far -- either for a meal or just for a visit.

9. Go to shul if possible. Ask others to join you if you think they'd like it.

Remember -- minimize the discomfort of your hosts while bringing the special spirit of Shabbat to their home. Countless people have done it with great success. After a few visits, you'll see a big difference in how they react and how much they would like to participate.

On-the-Go Reflections

It was our first baby, and it ended up being an emergency Caesarean, so my stay in the hospital was longer than we had expected. That meant I had to be there over Shabbat.

Shabbat in the hospital? How would we do it?

Well, we did, and it was great. First my mom (who doesn't observe Shabbat), came to visit me Friday afternoon and put some kosher food in the communal fridge located on my floor. I was worried about how I would get my food over Shabbat without turning the fridge's light on and off by opening and closing it. But my mom, who has-what I guess you would call-chutzpah, solved it. After she kissed me good-bye, she opened her coat and with a wink showed me the fridge bulb tucked neatly into her inner pocket.

"Good Shabbos!" she said, and then, in a whisper, "I'll put it back Saturday night." With that she turned and strolled confidently to the elevator.

My husband arranged to spend Shabbat at a home as near to the hospital as possible, which was still many miles away. Friday night wasn't a problem, because he drove to the hospital before sundown and left his car in the parking lot for the remainder of Shabbat.

Our Friday night meal was so special. My best friend had brought a scrumptious chicken dinner with homemade challah, fish, and soup ... so much better than the frozen kosher dinners they were serving.

The best part of the evening was when it was time for the blessing of the children. It was the first time we were doing it! For years I had seen other people's children at the Shabbat tables getting their blessings, with their mother and father placing their hands on their heads.

But our baby wasn't with us because she was in an incubator in the nursery. She was quite jaundiced and had to be under the special lights.

After my husband sang Eishet Chayil, he excused himself and said he'd be back in a minute. A few minutes later he returned and told me he had gone to the nursery and had placed his hands on the incubator and had given our little daughter her blessing.

I cried, picturing my husband doing this. I loved him so much at that moment, it's hard even to describe.

* * *

I once had a "Shabbat-on-the-Go," but it wasn't exactly by choice. My wife and I were on our way to a youth convention in Los Angeles, where I was supposed to entertain -- I'm a singer.

It was Friday afternoon, and we were driving through the mountains, when, suddenly, there was an avalanche and the road right ahead was totally blocked!

Although we were only a 15-minute drive from our destination, without this road we were virtually stuck. Walking was out of the question, as we would never arrive in time. Turning back was our only option, yet there was very little to turn back to -just a valley with a small town, and beyond it more mountains.

The town was Ontario, California, and believe me, we were the first Shabbat-observing Jews they had seen in a while.

Quickly, we assessed the situation. While my wife checked us into a motel, I ran to the general store to try and buy some supplies. The closest thing I could find for Shabbat candles were those long, red, tapered Christmas candles. Kosher wine was out of the question, but I was able to buy some liquor so that I could make kiddush on the next day.

Now for challah-of course there was no kosher bread, but how about a box of matzah? No way. Frantically I ran up and down the aisles, time running out. I grabbed the only kosher thing I could find-bread sticks. They would have to do.

Well, we lit our "Shabbat" candles on time and settled in for 26 hours of watermelon, vegetables... and lots and lots of breadsticks.

Ever since that Shabbat, whenever we travel, we carry not only a first-aid kit, but an emergency Shabbat kit-candles, canned food, and some bottled grape juice. We haven't been stranded like that since then, but if we ever are, we'll be prepared!

* * *

It was in the middle of the week of Passover when a sore on my lower back that had been hurting really began to feel painful. I was at work, and my friend said I'd better go see a doctor about it. It was Friday morning, and I figured I shouldn't put it off through Shabbat; better have it looked at now.

So I went to the doctor, and he said I'd better go to the hospital right away. I did, and they said it was a cyst that had to be removed immediately. They did the surgery with just a local anesthetic and said I could go home right away.

By now it was late in the afternoon and I was feeling kind of weak from it all, so I called my father ~to drive me home.

But what about Shabbat? My parents didn't observe Shabbat, and they didn't keep kosher, and on top of all that, it was Passover, so food was going to be a problem.

When I got home, I called the family that I had planned to go to for Shabbat and explained the situation. The wife insisted that if I had to stay home to recuperate, she was going to send me food for Shabbat. Quickly she dispatched her husband with a box full of food for me.

In the meantime, I was trying to figure out how to spend Shabbat at home, which I had never done because I didn't want to impose on my folks. But they were terrific. They asked me what they needed to do to help me keep Shabbat.

It really didn't take much doing. We decided which lights would stay on and which would remain off-they even let me unscrew the light in the fridge. My mom heated some food up for her and my dad, so she wouldn't have to cook after sundown. The only other question was the TV.

I knew I couldn't ask them not to watch it all Shabbat, so we compromised and set it on a favorite channel that would remain on until Shabbat was over.

Okay, so I watched TV on Shabbat ... but no laws were broken. And I got to spend Shabbat with my parents, who were amazing and totally tried to accommodate me by keeping Shabbat with me.

Oh -- and I almost forgot -- about a half hour before candle lighting, I got a call from the woman whose home I was supposed to spend Shabbat at, and she said that her husband couldn't find my house, so he left the box of kosher-for-Passover-Shabbat food at a donut shop, which was about a half mile away! He was sorry, but he wouldn't have made it home in time if he had kept driving around.

My father was so nice about it and volunteered to drive over and pick up the food at the donut shop. He made it there and back in time for Shabbat.

Even though all of this setting lights, leaving on the TV, and frantically rushing to get the food on time must have seemed weird to them, they never let on that they thought it was anything but important and necessary.

* * *

A friend and I were on our way from Manhattan to New Jersey, where we planned to spend Shabbat with friends. Yes, just two girls ready for a Shabbat "out," but, as they say, "The best laid plans of mice and men..."

We thought we had left plenty of time for travel, but we forgot one thing: it was Friday of New Year's weekend. The traffic was unbelievable; it was mid-afternoon, and time was running out.

Somewhere in the Lincoln Tunnel we realized that we were not going to make it there on time. We were frantic. By the time we got to the toll booth we were almost crying, and told the policeman there our dilemma.

He calmed us down and said he would be glad to escort us to New Jersey on the shoulder of the freeway. So off we went with a police escort for Shabbat! Is that style, or what?

* * *

We had just gotten married in Toronto and were on our way to Scranton, where my parents lived. They, along with my new in-laws, had planned a gala Sheva Berachot (post-wedding party) for about a hundred people, which was to be held that night, Friday night.

Perhaps it was the excitement of getting married just days before, or maybe I wasn't cut out to be a navigator. What I'm trying to say is, we got lost. Somewhere along the way we went the wrong way on a freeway and didn't realize it ... for a few hours.

When we drove into Hornell, New York-which isn't exactly near Scranton-we concluded that, yes, we were definitely lost; and, no, we were not going to make it to Scranton for Shabbat.

We quickly phoned my parents with the bad news, who by now were just happy to hear that we were okay. (The embarrassment of having the bride and groom absent for their own Sheva Berachot would certainly sink in later).

Then we had to get practical. We found a motel and a small grocery store where we purchased our honeymoon feast: two cans of kosher tuna, some vegetables, and a bag of pita bread.

It sounds like a real fiasco, but, after our parents forgave us (they had the Sheva Berachot anyway with their hundred guests), the whole thing seemed rather, well, romantic. In fact, we came very close to returning to that motel for our first anniversary.

* * *

My wife and I traveled to Rumania in the hope of adopting a baby. We came prepared for weeks of waiting, and that meant a few out-of-the-ordinary Shabbats.

There was little to no food in the country, so it was a good thing we had brought some along.

There was a Jewish community center in town that provided us with challah, if we were able to brave the Rumanian blizzard to get there to get it. One time they even provided some matzah.

But there was more than one Shabbat when we had to make Ha-motzi on bagel chips or matzah crackers from home.

It sounds like deprivation, but it was really an uplifting experience, for it drove home the idea that as a Jew, no matter where you are, the action and meaning is the same. Ha-motzi in Bucharest or ha-motzi in New York ... it's still Shabbat.

At one point we invited another North American Jewish couple who were also staying in the hotel waiting to adopt to join us for Friday night festivities.

They were blown away. They couldn't believe that we were celebrating Shabbat here... or anywhere for that matter.

After we washed and made ha-motzi, they started asking us a lot of questions as to the meaning and significance of everything.

It was as if we were able to pass the light on, even so far away. And it made me realize that the actions within Judaism are important, for the action itself perpetuates Judaism. It is a constant.

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