Shabbat on the high seas -Part II
January 25, 2019
As I mentioned in my column two weeks ago, whenever my wife and I travel overseas we always listen for the sounds of Jewish.
In that column I described how, upon boarding our cruise ship on the Friday afternoon before Christmas, I was hoping to have Shabbat services that evening aboard ship. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many co-religionists appear despite their long journeys to the ship and enduring the hassles of the boarding process.
What followed was a beautiful pluralistic service led by a very knowledgable self-appointed female congregant accompanied by a more traditional male congregant who sang the prayers in Hebrew using traditional melodies. Everyone was eager to share his or her prayer book with his or her fellow Jew.
Despite their diverse Jewish religious backgrounds and numerous nationalities, almost all of the congregants joined in the singing of the Shabbat songs and prayers, a testament to the universality and unity of the Jewish people.
It was heart-warming to see Jews coming together to create a Shabbat service on a cruise ship, respecting, or at least temporarily setting aside, their differing religious views and beliefs. Everyone recognized the special circumstances that none of us were at home or in our usual synagogues; and how important it is for Jews to come together to celebrate and observe Shabbat wherever they are.
Unfortunately, these feelings did not carry over to the next Shabbat on board. A week later, both liberal and orthodox Jews showed less tolerance and sensitivity for each other’s points of view about ritual and observance.
After less than a civil discussion, one group retreated to a different room resulting in split services, a shortage of prayer books for both groups, and insufficient wine and challah, which the ship had graciously furnished. There was very little evidence of that childhood song, we teach our children in early education,“I’ve got that Shabbat feeling.”
What was a beautiful Shabbat service the week before turned into an ugly display of Jewish disunity and acrimony. Many of the attendees, disgusted and frustrated by this debacle simply left and did not participate in services at all.
Responsibility for this fiasco must be shared by both sides and accentuates the serious religious, political, and social divisions among our people.
On one hand, left-leaning progressive Jews bring their secular views into the religious context by seeking to change the traditional customs, symbols, and texts associated with Shabbat and the Jewish holidays. They wrap their social and political positions into their sense of religious piety which insulates them from criticism in the public debate.
Supporting equality and fighting discrimination and abuse is a worthy cause. But must it really be done by diluting the importance of the Passover story for instance, which we are mandated to tell in every generation as a unique Jewish historical experience? Of course not!
On the other hand, the intolerance and contempt by some orthodox Jewish sects for non-observant Jews is counter-intuitive because Judaism is not only a religion; we are a sovereign people with a unique ethnicity, culture, and language.
Do these orthodox Jewish sects care to feed and clothe the widowed, the poor, and the hungry only if the recipients are observant? Of course not!
Of all the gifts the Torah bestows on the Jewish people, Shabbat is among the most cherished by all Jews. It is so fundamentally a part of the Jewish people that it was given to all Jews as a renewable resource to assure that even if we miss one Shabbat we only have to wait six days to again embrace its rest, warmth and serenity.
It was very unfortunate that so many Jews aboard that ship forgot the true meaning of what Shabbat was all about! They really “missed the boat” on this one.
If you wish to comment or respond you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please do so in a rational, thoughtful, respectful and civil manner. Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year!
Mel Pearlman holds B.S. & M.S. degrees in physics as well as a J.D. degree and initially came to Florida in 1966 to work on the Gemini and Apollo space programs. He has practiced law in Central Florida since 1972. He has served as president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando; was a charter board member, first Vice President and pro-bono legal counsel of the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Central Florida, as well as holding many other community leadership positions.