Where Rest Has A Place

By: Rene Venable, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

 

Welcome to an early Friday visit to the Machane Yehuda market. 

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The streets are alive. Dense crowds of people mill about the alleyways between shops selling fresh breads, varieties of spices which put color wheels to shame, fruit-flavored gummy candies, and pomegranates larger than softballs. I push through the crowd, occasionally shouting “Slicha!” and feeling proud that people may be getting the impression that I speak more than a few words of Hebrew. A man plays a jovial song on his violin and people gather around him, clapping and singing, iPhone cameras capturing the moment. An Orthodox Jew makes his way through the masses, pushing a shopping cart. Falafel in hand, I explore the shuk, mentally converting the prices from shekels to dollars. A fanfare of voices, options, street music, colors and scents resound. 

Far from still. 

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A few hours later, hundreds of people make their way toward the Western Wall. Fathers hold their sons’ hands and hurry toward the men’s area to pray by the ancient remains of the Second Temple. On the women’s side, a choral group circles up to dance along to a song. People hold prayer books in their hands and bob their heads, bowing with praise and prayer in the direction of the wall. Long skirts, big hats, small hats, kippahs and warm overcoats are gathered in a sea of Israelis and tourists. 

 

No iPhones capture the moment. 

 

The sun is setting, and our group of students maneuvers through the narrow cobblestone walkways of the Old City marketplace. Vendors try to snatch attention and make sales. We press on to Jaffa Gate, our exit from the tight and uneven path onto open, flat, ground. Quiet ground. As darkness sets in, string lights illuminate a street of retail stores. American Eagle, Urban Outfitters and all other establishments are closed. It is Friday night and the shopping center is empty apart from our huddle of students, shuffling toward a stranger’s home to bring in the Sabbath. We scatter for the occasional car. Cars, too, rest on Shabbat. 

 

After sundown, we are welcomed inside and given a seat at the table.

 

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Shabbat shalom. Thirty guests wait for the Hebrew blessing to be sung. Hands are washed, wine is poured, challah is torn and passed. All preparations for the meal were finished before sundown, and now our hosts share the food with us. The husband sings Eishet Chayil, 22 verses from Proverbs 31, to his wife. Bowls of hummus, vegetables, meat and spices circulate the tables. Our host tells us about his family’s journey from a secular lifestyle in the United States to a more observant lifestyle in Jerusalem. Our conversations are accompanied by the clinking of silverware. I pour more grape juice and am taken aback by its contrast to the grape juice of my American childhood. We are in the Mediterranean. After filling our stomachs, a space is created for reflection on how our expectations have compared with the realities of Israel. People share. We learn. We laugh. After many courses, traditions, and sharing, we return to the quiet streets of Jerusalem. These hours are the beginning of a 25-hour period of rest. 

 

As tomorrow dawns, rest still has a place. 

 

Some power-down their devices for the day and choose to refrain from driving their cars. Others translate rest differently into their lives. Rest is intentionally written into the weekly routine.

 

Bringing my experience back home.

 

If we were to createan intentional day of rest, what would it look like? What kinds of traditions and experiences can we create if we set aside space? If we refrain from work and obligations, how can we take time for ourselves and engage in restful, meaningful activities on our “to-do” list?