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What It’s Like to Observe Shabbat at UF

Although growing up my family had a dinner for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and lit candles on Hanukkah, we never did anything for Shabbat. I did know about the weekly holiday through my Hebrew school education. In preschool I was taught about some basic prayers, and I would even tear up paper towels to wear on my head because I had heard that women would wear lace hair coverings during candle lighting. I knew there was a blessing over wine and another one for challah (braided bread). However, in practice, my family did none of these things. I never really understood why.

I knew I wanted to learn more about Judaism in college. Originally, I started out by attending some holiday services at Hillel and Chabad. I never knew that this would gradually lead to me attending Shabbat on a weekly basis, meeting some really great friends and always having a full stomach on Friday nights – let alone fully observing the holiday’s various rules.

Something I didn’t know about Shabbat growing up is that, technically, there are rules. You’re not supposed to use your phone. You can leave a light on in your house, but you can’t switch it on and off (unless you put it on an automatic timer). Those who commit to full observance won’t drive a car, spend money, write, draw, carry things in public or even sew a hole in their dress. As I gradually learned about these rules, which were coded as law based on the Jewish holy books of Torah, I was conflicted. On one hand, it sounded incredible – a whole 25 hours each week where you and your friends commit to putting down your phones, not doing homework and just spending time together. On the other, it sounded daunting – this would mean no Saturday road trips, no shopping sprees, and not even posting the delicious meals on Instagram.

However, as I gradually began observing the rules, I realized how much of a blessing they could be. My boyfriend, who’s pre-med with an electrical engineering major, makes sure to complete his work just before or after the holiday, so we’re always guaranteed to spend it together. Even though the meals at Chabad always look picture perfect, I feel like I can enjoy them more without Facebook intruding on them. My friends aren’t distracted by random texts throughout the day. I have some time to myself to read books that aren’t related to homework. We can all be a little old-fashioned, with technology-free get-togethers at people’s apartments, where we play board games and eat snacks. There’s no worrying about cooking, because all of the food is prepared beforehand.

And at sundown on Saturday night, when I finally get to check my phone once again, I realize I haven’t missed out on much. Sure, my old lab partner from chemistry got to attend some wild party the night before. Or a guy from my high school got to see Kanye in concert. But I got to spend an uninterrupted 25 hours with some of my best friends. We got to be in our own world, subtly hidden away from all social media. We dolled up in pretty dresses, talked over wine and danced together during the prayer services. My boyfriend even wore a tie.

Every Jewish student is invited to join in Shabbat. It might not be the path each of them takes – it’s not even the one my own family did – but it very well might end up being mine.

Photo credit: 196flavors.com

Valerie Berman graduated from the University of Florida in 2018 with a Bachelor of Science in Health Education, and continued her academic pursuits as part of the UF College of Nursing's Accelerated BSN program. During her undergraduate years, she was a member of the UF Honors Program, volunteered with Shands Hospital and Alachua County Schools, acted as delegate for the Jewish Student Union's Dance Marathon team, and got involved with the Jewish community on campus as part of the Lubavitch Chabad Student Group. She also traveled to Israel twice, and attended various Judaic study programs. Val's creative pursuits extend beyond writing – she's also dipped her toes into baking, painting, and designing Redbubble stickers. Her current life plan involves furthering her nursing career, settling down in New York or South Florida, and eventually becoming that one Jewish mother everyone knows and loves. For now, though, you can probably find her eating ice cream and plotting how to win her next Pokémon battle!
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