Tag Archives: Shabbat

Friday Feature: What Are You Thankful For This Week?

It’s time for the Friday Feature again, where I ask you what good things happened to you this week. This is direct from Telushkin’s Book of Jewish Values, Day 69.

This is a regular Friday morning feature for this blog. Telushkin intended his book to provide topics for Shabbat discussions for at least a year, as each “week” is composed of six values (one per day) and then Shabbat, where he encourages us to talk about those values at our Shabbat dinners and services. I feel that the idea of gratitude is so central to Jewish practice that we should be reminded weekly of what we might be grateful for.

While I know that this might seem a little self-centered, I’m also doing this so that people will have some food for thought for their own Shabbat dinners about what they might be thankful for. I generally talk about the following areas of my life: work and career; family and friends; health; household; my conversion studies; miscellaneous life; and the wider world. Feel free to add or subtract as necessary for your own use.


This week, I can be thankful. In terms of work and career, my grades are filed and I’m on vacation for the next three weeks, during which time I’ll be able to set up my fall courses without too much hassle. I am presenting research at a conference in the middle of the month, which will be fun, and I’m working on my book (though not as much as I probably should be). I also got permission from a former student to use her absolutely stellar research paper as a good example for future classes. Finally, I have a job interview next Tuesday for a class or two at a new school, which will bring me up to full-time income for the fall should I get it.

Family and friends – we’ve seen friends almost every day this week, and it’s been great. We are having one friend who’s moving out of state to Shabbat dinner tonight, and I’ve got a bang-up dinner planned. We’ll have lunch with my kids tomorrow and see them for at least that time, which will be good.

In terms of health, I seem to be doing mostly okay. I’ve been pretty tired because it’s been hot and swampy here (not normal for this area) and that wears me out, as well as not letting me sleep. But otherwise, I seem to be doing okay.

We were able to get some needed things for the household when I got paid, and that was helpful. Earlier this week I rearranged the kitchen to make challah-making easier, and that’s also helped. We will be emptying out our storage unit in our old hometown this weekend, and that will also help.

My conversion studies, right now, are mainly meditation, prayer, and music. I returned the 22 books I’d checked out of the library, and I might go back and get one or two of them for a re-read, but at this point I’m sort of booked out. Part of this is due to being tired due to the weather (see above); my concentration is pretty shot. But I’m glad that I’m still learning and remembering prayers.

In the wider world… well. I wish that I had more to be thankful for there. I suppose the recent Uganda decision to invalidate the anti-gay law qualifies, but what’s going on in Israel has me in tears if I think about it too much.

What are you thankful for this week?

Shabbat shalom, and I’ll be back sometime after Shabbat is over!

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Friday Feature: What Good Thing(s) Happened To You This Week?

13 Tamuz 5774

It’s time for the Friday Feature again, where I ask you what good thing happened to you this week. This is direct from Telushkin’s Book of Jewish Values, Day 69.

This is a regular Friday morning feature for this blog. Telushkin intended his book to provide topics for Shabbat discussions for at least a year, as each “week” is composed of six values (one per day) and then Shabbat, where he encourages us to talk about those values at our Shabbat dinners and services. I feel that the idea of gratitude is so central to Jewish practice that we should be reminded weekly of what we might be grateful for.


While I know that this might seem a little self-centered, I’m also doing this so that people will have some food for thought for their own Shabbat dinners about what they might be thankful for. I generally talk about the following areas of my life: work and career; family and friends; health; household; my conversion studies; miscellaneous life; and the wider world. Feel free to add or subtract as necessary for your own use.

Work and career: My summer course is going very well. My “how to write well” class opened a lot of eyes and got my students thinking, which is awesome.

Family and friends: My partner got promoted at work, and that’s been great for him. He’s also doing a lot of writing projects, which is fantastic for him. Another friend of mine recently got published in an academic journal, which is great.

Health: I have been sleeping reasonably well with one day not-so-good sleep (for me that’s really a big deal; usually I don’t sleep especially well).

Household: My new kippah arrived today, and two days ago all the ingredients and tools for my grain-free challah arrived: potato starch and parchment paper and a sifter that hasn’t been contaminated with wheat, a couple of pastry brushes to replace the one we seem to have lost; xanthan gum to make it stretchy like bread should be. This means that I can make my challah again for Shabbat! I admit I’m excited.

Conversion and conversion studies: I’ve made the hard decision and have contacted another rabbi. I am still studying Hebrew and reading every book I can get my hand on and I’m really enjoying it. I have about two people left to come out to and then I can go public on Facebook about my conversion.

So now I ask my readers: What are you grateful for this week? What are you going to talk about over your Shabbat table?

I wish you Shabbat Shalom, and I’ll see you back here on Sunday.

 

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Friday Feature: What Good Thing Happened to You This Week?

6 Tamuz 5774

It’s time for the Friday Feature again, where I ask you what good thing happened to you this week. This is direct from Telushkin’s Book of Jewish Values, Day 69.

This is a regular Friday morning feature for this blog. Telushkin intended his book to provide topics for Shabbat discussions for at least a year, as each “week” is composed of six values (one per day) and then Shabbat, where he encourages us to talk about those values at our Shabbat dinners and services. I feel that the idea of gratitude is so central to Jewish practice that we should be reminded weekly of what we might be grateful for.


In terms of my work and my career, I filed grades on Sunday this week and my students had an 86% pass rate, which makes me happy. My current class is keeping up with the work and we’ve had some amazing and enlightening discussions. The structure I put together for the course is working better than I could have hoped, too. And I’m going to spend part of this week working on the book that is closer to being finalized than I could have hoped for, so I can get it onto Amazon and get students to buy it so they can succeed in school this coming school year.

In terms of my social relationships, I got lucky enough to spend time with several friends this week: my best friend was here on Wednesday, and yesterday I got to see an old friend from graduate school whom I hadn’t seen in months. I was asked to be part of someone’s elevation ceremony in my medieval group in a couple weeks.

In terms of my health, I got a good night’s sleep last night and I’m feeling better now that my blood pressure is under control. I’m grateful that all my pharmacy stuff is taken care of for the month so I don’t have to worry about medications. I’m glad that walking a mile is no longer an exercise in pain and frustration, and that I was able to do that a couple of times this week, too.

For my household, we have a full refrigerator and gas tank again. My bank is working with me on the fact that one of my paychecks is going to be here much later than I wanted it to be. Our library books are renewed and I was able to afford a copy of Epstein’s book for myself when the library copy was called back on a hold. We were able to reserve a local storage unit for a reduced price from the one we have in another city, and we’ll be spending part of the weekend going up and getting our things out of the other unit and moving them here, so we can stop having to pay that bill and so our things will be close by.

In terms of family, my partner and I have been having a good week with each other, with lots of down-time and time spent together. My kids won’t be here this coming weekend as originally planned but that’s okay; we’ll have time with them soon again.

In terms of my studies, I’m still learning and growing, and I find almost everything I read fascinating. I’m glad that I came to the realization that I need a different rabbi early on, instead of later on when it would have been more difficult to switch.

In things that don’t seem to fit into any category, an older man saw my kippah while my friend and my partner and I were waiting to be seated for lunch on Thursday, and said “Shalom alecheim!” to me. I’ve been positively recognized as a Jew again in public, and that was exciting. I’m excited that I have more followers here at WWG. I’m glad that I am reaching people and that they’re responding positively.

In the wider world, I’m grateful that so many people have reacted so strongly to the Hobby Lobby ruling, and that it’s spurring greater voter registration and activity out there. I’m also grateful that more marriage-equality rulings have come down on the side of the GLBT community (most recently the 6th Circuit ruling and what’s happened in Colorado).

So tell me. What good things happened to you this week?

And that said, I’ll wish you Shabbat Shalom, and I’ll see you again on Sunday.

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Friday Feature: What Good Thing Happened To You This Week?

29 Sivan 5774

Telushkin’s Jewish value for day 69 (in his book The Book of Jewish Values) asks: What good thing happened to you this week?

This is going to be a regular Friday morning feature for me from now on, I think. Telushkin intended his book to provide topics for Shabbat discussions for at least a year, as each “week” is composed of six values (one per day) and then Shabbat, where he encourages us to talk about those values at our Shabbat dinners and services. I feel that the idea of gratitude is so central to Jewish practice that we should be reminded weekly of what we might be grateful for, so I’m going to make this my regular Friday morning feature.

In yesterday’s post I talked about making gratitude part of my daily practice even before the idea of converting to Judaism had become part of my reality. Gratitude doesn’t have to be about Big Things. It can be about little things, too. Being little doesn’t make a thing trivial. And over the past week, I have had all kinds of things to be grateful for.

In terms of my career and my job, my summer class is completely prepped, which is a new thing for me – I won’t have to worry about scrambling to get anything set up for students, because it’s all done. That gives me an extra hour or two per week, at least. My online course will be done on Sunday and I hope to have grades ready to file at that point. Both of these make me thankful because I get to be with and interact with students, which is a powerful experience for me. They also make me thankful because they will produce a paycheck, with which I can meet my family’s needs. I will have time on Sunday to write, very likely, which will allow me to finish the student-success book that I want to put up on Amazon for sale well before the school year starts.

In terms of my health, I’m grateful that my blood pressure is back down in a normal range. I’m grateful that my blood sugar is mostly stable. I’m grateful that I am getting good sleep every night and that I wake up rested instead of tired.

In terms of my household, I’m grateful that my car has nearly a full tank of gas. I’m grateful that the refrigerator is full of food after my grocery run on Tuesday. I’m grateful that we made it to the laundromat on Sunday so I have clean clothes, and that the kitchen is clean so that baking challah for Shabbat dinner will not be a problem. I’m thankful that my partner got paid and that the bill that was waiting is now paid as well.

In terms of my studies, I’m grateful that I can now write out transliterations for most of the Hebrew I’ve been studying, which means I know the letters and the nikkudim well enough to stumble through it. I’m not fluent yet by any means, but it’s coming along. I’m also grateful that I have been able to take the time to read through most of the library books I picked up two weeks ago, and that I have the ability to go online and renew some of them so I can take a deeper look at them this coming week.

In terms of friends, I’m grateful for getting to have lunch with one of my newer friends yesterday, for seeing another friend for most of Monday after work, and for having plans to see other friends this weekend. I’m grateful that I have so much love in my life.

In terms of family, I’m so glad that I got to see my children this past weekend, and that my partner and I have been able to see each other every day this week. I’m grateful for his presence in my life. I’m grateful that my other partner is in my life.

I’m also grateful for the music of the Josh Nelson Project, Neshama Carlebach, and Aryeh Kuntsler. I’m grateful for authors: Telushkin, Epstein, Diamant, Leaman, Kushner – all of whom have enlightened and educated me this week as I work towards conversion. I’m grateful for the good weather we’ve been having locally, and that I was able to walk to and from my lunch appointment yesterday with minimal pain.

And, in the wider world, I’m grateful for the recent court rulings in favor of marriage equality, which tells me that justice may take its time in getting here, but once it’s here, it stays.

As you can see, once you start listing the things you’re grateful for, it can get out of hand. But perhaps that’s a good thing to do on erev Shabbat. We often look at our lives and only see the bills, the worries, the stressors. While it’s human to notice the bad things first – because in an evolutionary sense, that helps us avoid danger – an over-focus on bad things can be damaging. So take some time today to list the things you’re thankful for. Talk about them with your family over Shabbat dinner.

One of Josh Nelson’s songs, “Seven,” talks about the Sabbath being a time to slow down and consider what the seventh day means:

I am waiting for the sunset

I am waiting for the peace

I am waiting for this holy moment

For a moment of release

Seven days, take my worries

Taking time to catch my breath

Seven days, start me over

Slow me down and clear my head…

Now I ask you – what better way to enter the seventh day than with gratitude? What better way to calm down and catch your breath than by spending a little time listing and thinking about what you’re grateful for?

So let the day take your worries. While you wait for the sunset, let yourself start over and clear your head (from negativity and stress) by listing the good things that have happened to you during the week. Feel free to use the comment thread here to state it, if you like.

And that said, I wish you Shabbat Shalom, and I’ll see you back on Sunday morning.

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Why Shabbat? From My Readings: The Sabbath by Heschel, and Who Needs God by Kushner

24 Sivan 5774 (after sundown)

I’ve just finished reading Abraham Heschel’s classic work The Sabbath (and I recommend it, despite the somewhat dated writing style). In it, Heschel points out that the Sabbath is holy because it is sanctified time, rather than a sanctified object. Time is an unusual idea, according to Heschel – it is not something that exists in any one place, nor is it attached to any one thing. Shabbat is important because it is time set aside to recuperate and recover from the daily grind of work and business, and to reconnect – with G-d, with our families and friends, with ourselves. Instead of having to travel to a specific place in order to reconnect, recuperate, and recover, we create a sacred time that can be observed anywhere.

That reconnection can be fatiguing and even intimidating if you’re not used to it. Most of us have seen the family at the restaurant with everyone’s nose buried in their GameBoy, their Kindle, or their iPhone. When was the last time you actually sat down and had a meal with your family, without the distractions of the game on the TV or the GameBoy in your child’s hands? When was the last time you actually spent an hour with someone just talking, with your phone set to “off” rather than “vibrate”? And if you did, did you really connect with them? Or was all the discussion about mundane things like the weather and the latest sports news?

I also finished Kushner’s Who Needs God earlier today. He refers to “the iPhone problem” as it was experienced in an earlier time – with the transistor radio as the interfering agent – as one of the ways we can be together in body and still totally separate in spirit. Before that, I’m sure that it was newspapers, magazines, and books that interfered both outside the home and in it, and at home there was also the TV and before that the radio as interfering agents between ourselves and other people. Kushner talks a lot in this book about loneliness, and how we miss our connection with others more than we realize we do. We compete, rather than connect. We objectify, rather than empathize. And as a result we end up with what Kushner, referencing Martin Buber, calls the I-It relationship, rather than the I-Thou relationship. We see others only as “how can I get something from them/how will they benefit me”, instead of seeing them as human beings with families, or health problems, or crises of faith, or worries.

The concept of taking an entire day “just” to rest is pretty foreign to me, as it probably is to most Westerners who weren’t raised Jewish. I know of about three Christian sects that make a point of Sabbath being an all-day thing, but that’s it. For most people, taking an entire day to rest sounds like a luxury. To others, it may even sound sinful. For me, a day off is ideal for catching up on work – answering student e-mails, for example. Planning my next class. Working on my budget. Organizing my desk. It’s work time, not play time – and certainly not rest time.

I’ve had Shabbat evenings on Fridays. I’ve been to a few Shabbat services at my temple on Friday nights, but the next morning I fell right back into doing what I needed to do in order to get work done – emails, grading, and of course endless Facebooking. I couldn’t seem to conceive of doing Shabbat not just on Friday nights but all day on Saturday, too. Even thinking of trying to have a full evening and day of Shabbat was nerve-wracking to me. What was I supposed to do with myself? Study? How, when I’m not supposed to write (because writing is creation)? Read? What would I do if I ran out of books to read (a perfectly possible scenario for me)? What about my students, and their e-mails, and the homeworks I have to grade, and the classes I need to prep? Heck, what about Facebook? How could I just not be there for a whole 25-hour period?

And what, exactly, would my kids and I – and my partner, once he arrived home – talk about, exactly? How would that look? How would that work? They’re not converting to Judaism – so one of my main current topics isn’t an option for table conversation. Talking about work is sort of not what I had in mind for Shabbat conversation. But what else is there to talk about?

Like the idea of taking a day completely off to rest, the concept of connecting in person is also increasingly foreign to most Westerners. “Connection” has become a term that refers to e-mail, websites, and blogging – and believe me when I tell you that I recognize the irony here, as I write about this issue on a blog. What we used to mean by connection, in-person connection, has become largely shredded away, as if we never needed it or wanted it.

So I didn’t think I could do it. I thought for sure I’d go mad with the tension of not doing anything productive, not to mention the guilt about the aforementioned emails and students. But I had to try. If I’m going to truly live as a Jew, this is part of it. So I need to learn how, right?

One of the things that Shabbat does is give us a holy time to see others as real people and human beings. I decided on Thursday night that I was going to make this Shabbat special, because my kids were going to be here. So I saw my doctor in the morning, I picked up my kids, ran my errands on Friday during the day, and then we prepared a real Shabbat meal. Even though the main dish just did not turn out right, it was salvageable without too many problems. I said the prayers before my older child and my partner came to the table (at their request – and I’m not about to push that on them), but my younger child decided to be there and participated with me as I sang the brachot and the Kiddush. We had even baked challah for the meal – grain-free, true, but it was still challah. We had a meal together as a family, we prepared it as a family, and we cleaned it up afterward as a family. At the table, each person shared something good that had happened to them in the last week. I haven’t had that much connection with my children in literally months.

This morning my younger daughter and I walked to the synagogue and found out that the Saturday morning Shabbat service included a bar mitzvah. Walking home, I felt such a sense of peace, just talking with my daughter, being disconnected from all my electronics, and feeling so connected to my kid and to the greater Jewish community. It was astounding. This afternoon, after I read for three hours from Kushner, my children asked me to play a game of Apples to Apples with them. Sure, it wasn’t entirely Shabbat-related, but in the spirit of spending time with my family, I dove right into it. I’m pretty sure HaShem didn’t mind.

I’m still not sure I can completely keep Shabbat the way the more-conservative Conservative Jews do. I’m not sure I can give up jotting notes down about things that I need to remember but which my somewhat distracted brain might otherwise forget, for example, or cleaning up my kitchen after a meal even if it’s still technically Shabbat by the clock and calendar. But I can’t deny I got something out of doing this. I didn’t quite make it to sundown, I admit, but when I did finally log into my computer about four hours before sundown, I found out that the e-mail and the students were still there. I was able to get the work that I needed to do, done, with a renewed energy and sense of peace that I’ve rarely felt even since I realized I need to convert. More to the point, I felt rested. I haven’t had that feeling in months, either.

So I guess the lesson I’m taking away from this experience is this: Being busy is fine – but being calm is necessary too, and making a sacred space and a sacred time for calm and study and meditation and connection is part of what we need, as human beings, to not just survive but to thrive.

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A Trip to the Fairfax District, and Shabbat/Oneg Friday Night

10 Sivan 5774

Friday morning and early afternoon, my Jewish best friend took me to the Fairfax district so we could do some Jewish-specific shopping. The night before we had identified a few shops we wanted to go to, including a Jewish thrift store.

I admit that even with a plan, I was kind of overwhelmed. Despite living in the Los Angeles area now, I grew up in a suburb. Crossing the border into Los Angeles makes my mind go offline as I can’t visualize the map, and in my head “Los Angeles” translates into “large undefined area that I can’t process.” It’s a thing. But this is why my partner or my friends drive when we go into LA instead of me. I’d get lost in a heartbeat, even with a GPS trying to tell me the way. As it was, we had some trouble getting to Fairfax because of unexpected traffic, but we did arrive where we wanted to be eventually.

I wore the borrowed cotton kippah that my temple had let me take home on Shavuot last week, and I found out that cotton cloth kippot are generally made of broadcloth. Broadcloth is so tightly woven that it does not breathe at all. So combine black color + broadcloth + Los Angeles midday sunshine and you get “very hot very fast,” so I was eager to find a few crocheted/knitted kippot that would breathe better. (Not to mention that that borrowed kippah was enormous – it covered as much of my head as a baseball cap would.

My friend drew my attention to the street when we got to the thrift store, our first stop. Up and down the street were two or three small kosher delis, a kosher butcher, a couple of stores that were obviously Judaica, a jewelry store, and a social-service agency that was aimed at Jews by the signage. Just standing on the sidewalk, I noticed that at least half the men walking by us were kippah-clad. Several had tallit katan showing under their t-shirts, as well. It felt like I’d come home – or as much like home as an urban area will ever feel to suburban-minded me.

We drove to a more upscale store after going to the thrift shop, and then a new kosher deli – Wexler’s – that opened up in the Grand Marketplace area of town for our lunch and that a friend of my friend’s had said was better than Langer’s (which she thinks is better than Canter’s, a deli that is known in LA for being “the best”). She wanted to confirm that Wexler’s really was better than either of those – and it turns out, it is. Go to Wexler’s if you’re in Los Angeles. Their pastrami is amazing!

I came home with two new kippot, a Mogen David, a chain for the Mogen David, and a few kippot clips. I’d originally intended one of the kippot for this Sunday’s West Hollywood Pride, among other queer-themed events where I want to be an obvious queer Jew-ish person, but I’m so tired tonight that I’m bidding my partner a good time and staying home tomorrow. (I’ll still wear the multicolor kippah tomorrow, though – it looks  something like the one on this page. Eventually I want to get one like this.) I put on the white-and-blue one as soon as I paid for it, and my head was noticeably cooler after that, although it kept sliding down the back of my head even with the clips, which frustrated me a bit. It looks pretty much like this one on this page. (I’m also looking forward to the sage-green-and-white one that a friend of mine in the South crocheted for me when she found out that I’m converting; that should be arriving sometime next week, I hope. I’m thrilled about that one too.)

The Mogen David and its chain were from the thrift store. My best friend bought me the star, and I bought the chain. She commented that it’s important that you not buy your own first Mogen David, and the shopkeeper’s face got a look on it that I couldn’t parse. My best friend later told me “That was the look of ‘Oh, this is a REALLY important purchase.'” I had thought it was disapproval – I’m glad I was wrong.

The Mogen David’s not especially big, but it’s bright silver and pretty obvious if I’m wearing anything dark behind it (which I do, most of the time). I keep catching myself playing with it, and grinning like a loon. This is what it looks like against my T-shirt:

2014-06-06 at 15.24.22

It’s about 3/4″ (2 cm) across from the tip of one star point to the one across from it. It’s very simple but it also makes the statement: Yes, I’m Jew-ish.

And after lunch, I got my very first anti-Semitic slur as we left the district on our way back to the car after lunch. The sidewalk was a little crowded, and a young woman simply shoved past me and said “fat k-ke!” as she did so. My friend was livid, but hey, apparently the bigots haven’t forgotten the classics. I was actually just annoyed. I guess I’ve taken enough abuse for being queer that being abused for being Jew-ish was just more of the same nonsense to me. Still, it’s a first that I won’t be saying the shehecheyanu for (although I did say that for the purchase of the Mogen David and of the kippot).

We intended to make Shabbat dinner before going to services but we left it too late; between Friday traffic and being tired, we bought but did not prepare any food for Shabbat dinner. Oh, well. I now have a good kosher red wine to use for a few future Shabbat dinners, at least. Instead, we had a snack and then walked over to temple to participate in Friday night services. And this time we actually got a minyan plus one extra! I noticed that the convert couple I met at Shavuot (husband is moving towards conversion; wife is born Jewish) was there and that the rabbi counted them both as part of the minyan, so I need to find out how he determines that when we have our appointment on Tuesday.

My friend knew most of the melodies that the rabbi used, but there were a few differences from her Reform services. The service was once again lots of singing and pretty informal; the oneg was fun even though I couldn’t eat anything (again – I need to bring a gluten-free contribution next time I think). The convert couple and I exchanged contact information and the husband said he would send me the rabbi’s booklist. When the rabbi overheard that, he said “Oh, this guy’s probably read all the books – I’ll have to think of something different for him to do.” (I’m still not sure if he was kidding or not.)

My friend will be coming over on Tuesday to go to my first appointment with the rabbi with me. I’m looking forward to it instead of dreading it, so I think that’s a good sign, right?

Next weekend both my partners and I are traveling on Shabbat so I won’t be able to observe it, but I plan to get right back to observance the week after. I’m sure HaShem will understand; I’ll still pray, but it’ll be alone instead of with a group this coming weekend.

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Here on Shabbat? Welcome, and I’ll be back on Saturday night.

Last week, I was pretty fried. Shabbat fried me, even. That’s not what it’s supposed to do. And most of what fried me was social media.

So, part of my Shabbat observance, as far as I can manage it for the next little while, will be to disconnect for those 25 hours. Apart from having my phone on for emergency messages from my partners, I will be absent from the Internet for most or all of Shabbat each weekend. So if you don’t see anything here from me on Friday after sundown until Saturday after sundown (Pacific time), that will be why.

Now as with all things Jewish, this is a practice. This means that I won’t be perfect at it, and that there may be times when I need to connect anyway, and I may find that it’s not for me after all. If my students have an online exam on Saturday, for example, I will have to be available to them so that anything that crashes can be put right back up. I am required to check my work e-mail once every day, so I will do that on Saturday mornings to make sure the fires are put out before they get too big to handle. But social media, blogging, chatting and texting will be off the table as much as possible on Shabbat proper. If I visit with people, I will visit in person.

I’ve been very pleased at the numbers on my stats page, as they keep going up by one or two new followers a day. I hope not to lose any of my readers if I skip a day once a week to observe Shabbat. But for me, Shabbat has to be about rest and regeneration and community and prayer, at least for now. I need one day a week that is between me and G-d.

I hope you understand.

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