My Journey to Observing Shabbat
My five-year struggle to give up technology and learn to connect to my soul.
Growing up as a non-Jew, Friday nights were always my favorite time of the week. I’d go to the mall with friends after school, catch a movie, eat a late night dinner at a local restaurant with my mom, or just chill out at home and watch TGIF television. On Saturdays, I’d wake up to morning cartoons and, as I got older, go out to breakfast with friends, visit museums, or shop.
When I started converting to Judaism in my early 20s, it was difficult to give up all my fun Friday night and Saturday rituals.
Since I was pursuing an Orthodox conversion, suddenly I was expected to shut off all my devices, park my car in the garage, and forget about going out on Friday nights anymore. Instead of late nights, I was going to have to call it in early since I had to go to synagogue the next morning.
I was attracted to Judaism for many reasons. I loved the wisdom, the community and I felt close to God when I was practicing the laws and rituals. Judaism was meaningful. But becoming completely Shabbat observant was a big challenge. It took me five years to fully keep the day of rest.
My first step, giving up literal work on Shabbat, was easy. I didn’t really work on the weekend anyway. I was also okay with taping the lights around my house so I wouldn’t accidently use electricity as well as leaving on the hot plate and air conditioning for 25 hours.
But as I walked to shul every Friday night and I saw people in restaurants and bars, I felt a tinge of sadness. I had a bad case of FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – and it was having a negative effect on my conversion process.
I wanted to forget my past and become deeply immersed in the world of Shabbat, but I couldn’t. So I started taking on the harder parts of Shabbat very slowly. I was on the path and it was going to take me time to get there.
My then boyfriend (now husband) and I would drive or take public transportation to synagogue, but at least we’d go regularly. I would leave my phone at home and check it only in the privacy of my room. Eventually I stopped posting on Facebook and answering emails.
We felt like outsiders in both secular and observant worlds.
When we were together, we’d end Shabbat early if Danny, a comedian, had a gig to get to or if we had an event to go to, and be proud of ourselves for doing 20 out of 25 hours.
But being in this “half in, half out” state was rough for Danny and me. We were caught in some odd no-man’s land where we couldn’t go out and fully enjoy our Friday nights and Saturday afternoons nor could we get fully engrossed in Shabbat and connect to the spiritual depth of the day. We felt like outsiders in both secular and observant worlds.
Then one Shabbat I focused on the beauty I was experiencing, the sense of freedom I felt without my phone at synagogue and our meals. The times I walked to shul were much less stressful than when I drove. Simply focusing on God instead of myself for one day a week was meditative. I felt at peace when I was actually following through with the rituals.
Slowly, I cut out the driving and got more into Shabbat. I was 99% observant. The only thing I was still doing was checking my phone. Every time I did it, it took me out of Shabbat but I convinced myself that I was addicted to technology. During the week, I’d check my email every few minutes and look on Facebook constantly. It gave me too much anxiety not knowing if someone was calling me because there was an emergency.
But there never were any emergencies, thank God, and I didn’t get any pressing emails or Facebook messages on Fridays and Saturdays. I felt protected. I felt like God was telling me that it was fine to just not look at my phone.
So one Shabbat, I decided to put my phone away. The next one, I did the same. Every time, it got easier.
Today, I observe Shabbat all the way and Danny and I love it. I don’t feel like an outsider anymore. In fact, I feel like I’m on the inside, with God, and completely connected to my soul.