After the Shabbat Project, what's next?
“I sat at their table, and it changed my life,” I told the woman sitting next to me on the plane. I was flying back from a summer spent in Israel, and I was overflowing with inspiration. You should have seen the beauty of the candles reflected on the Jerusalem stone wall. You should have seen the warmth between the husband and wife. The beautiful, pure faces of all those children. The aroma of fresh challah. The songs that danced and wove their way into the starlit night.
My seatmate looked unimpressed. She gave me a half smile and downed the rest of her red wine. So I began to tell her about the mountains I had climbed in the Golan. The scuba diving I had done in Eilat. The classes that I attended, and the sunrises that I had spent at the Kotel. You should have seen the Wall at dawn. The silence as the sun flooded over the plaza with its first rays of light. The peace that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. That sudden peace inside. Like you have finally found what you were looking for, and you’re holding it right in your hands. Like a key.
“So what are you going to do now?” the woman asked me.
I looked at her. Then I stared down at my own untouched drink. What did she mean?
“I told you, I’m going into my senior year at the University of Pennsylvania. I’m starting next week,” I answered.
She shook her head. “No, I mean what are you going to do with all of that inspiration? How is it really going to change your life?”
I felt the images simmering inside of me begin to fade. She was right.
“I really don’t know.” I drank my wine. Looked out the window at the darkening sky and heard an echo of one of my professor’s favorite lines: Nothing changes if nothing changes.
Two weeks later I was walking down Locust Walk, with the autumn leaves swirling furiously around me. I walked by the statue of Ben Franklin that I had passed so many times before. He was sitting there on that bench with his tiny glasses and mysterious smile. I thought about his inventions. How he figured out how to transform the power of light. How to use energy. How to catch the lightning from the sky. How he turned his ideas into actions. I thought about one of his quotes: “Some people die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75.” And another one: “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement and success have no meaning.”
I sat down on the bench. What am I going to do now? The question followed me to class. It followed me to parties. It wove its way around me in the library. What are you going to do with all that inspiration you got in Jerusalem?
A few days later, one of the Hillel members asked me to speak the following Shabbos. I hated speaking. I didn’t know what I would say. I didn’t want to do it. But I said yes anyway because I sat at their table, and it changed my life, and I needed to figure out how I would make that real. Could I hold onto that meaning in the whirl of everyday life? Could I find a way to pass it on? I didn’t know. But I knew I had to try.
On the Shabbat of Oct. 25, thousands of people experienced the beauty of Shabbat for their first time. I’m sure many were touched, perhaps transformed by the experience. But it will fade unless we transform the inspiration into action. Here are three possible ways (and they apply to every inspirational experience).
1. Teach it to someone else. Even if you only know a few ideas, share them. Even if you have only been to one Shabbos table, describe it to a friend who hasn’t had the chance to experience it. If you know aleph, teach aleph. When you learn bet, teach bet. Every time you are given the gift of wisdom, pass it on to at least one person that you know.
2. Make it into a five-minute change. Take any five minutes of your day and decide that you will use those five minutes to do something about what you experienced. It doesn’t matter what you do. Learn something new. Pray. Think. Do an act of kindness. Write down the lessons you have gleaned. But do it consistently so that the burst of inspiration can be a daily source of light.
3. Break it down and do what you can. You may have loved experiencing Shabbos but can’t see yourself keeping all of Shabbos, every week, just yet. So create a list of small, specific goals that you can do. Like light candles. Or make Kiddush. Or go to synagogue on Saturday morning. Begin your list with the easiest goal and have it end with your ultimate goal. This way you can take the inspiration and make it into a concrete plan before it begins to fade. It’s not all or nothing.
Nothing changes unless something changes.
Sara Debbie Gutfreund received her BA in English from the University of Pennsylvania and her MA in family therapy from the University of North Texas. She has taught parenting classes and self-development seminars and provided adolescent counseling. She writes extensively for many online publications and in published anthologies of Jewish women’s writing. She and her husband spent 14 wonderful years raising their five children in Israel, and now live in Blue Ridge Estates in Waterbury, Connecticut, where Sara Debbie enjoys skiing and running in her free time.