Experiencing Shabbat

     One of the things my husband and I enjoy is occasionally traveling to Israel, as we both have a keen interest in biblical and church history. During these times we explore sites, museums and restaurants that one doesn’t ordinarily visit when with a tour group. These experiences have greatly enriched our appreciation for our Christian heritage and for the fascinating and complex world of the Middle East.

     During these trips we have become close friends with an Israeli Jewish family, Zalle and Tamar. They have a twenty-five year old son, Dan-El, who is currently serving in the Army (as all young adults do at that age). It is our privilege to be Zalle and Tamar’s guests at their Shabbat  (Sabbath) table when we are in Jerusalem. Shabbat begins on Friday evening at sundown and lasts until sundown on Saturday evening. During that time the Jewish sections of Jerusalem totally shut down – nothing is open.  This is the observance of the Sabbath, the Fourth Commandment of the Ten (Deuteronomy 5:6-21) and the Shabbat meal on Friday evening begins the observance. The meal is prepared on Friday, since there is no cooking or any kind of work on the Sabbath. No computers, no phones, no television, no sports – it is a time for rest of body, mind and spirit. The Friday evening meal is a time for families and friends to be together, to enjoy eating, conversing, and reading the liturgy, reminding them of God’s blessings on His people.

   Zalle and Tamar have guests every week. They may be longtime friends, political or business colleagues, or extended family. The conversation is always energetic, engaging and loud! We marvel at the freedom we have, as followers of Christ, at their table to discuss Jesus and our perspective of scripture, to ask questions and seek to understand their views. It always takes us a few days to digest it all. For example, recently we were discussing the Israeli family unit. Tamar told us that Dan-El’s generation is the first generation in Israel to know their grandparents. Almost all of the children of previous generations lost their grandparents in the Holocaust or pograms of eastern Europe and Russia.  This is a new family dynamic in Israel, and one that surely they treasure more than we ever possibly could imagine.

     After dinner, we walk back to our hotel (no driving, either) and talk over the evening. I have the same emotion every time – I feel wistful, rather sad. How I wish we had a culture that made it possible for families and friends to meet regularly once a week for a meal and unrushed time together. Most of us can barely manage family meals a few times a year, our lives are so busy and we are so scattered. I’m reminded of the importance of families being together, worshipping together and just sharing a meal with each other. Its a holy – Shabbat- experience.

   Passover is just around the corner. This will be a somber and difficult holiday for our Jewish friends. The war in Gaza and the realization that the world is still filled with anti-Semitism is hard to digest. Pray for our Jewish friends, that God’s presence will be near and that they will sense His faithfulness during these difficult days, especially on their Shabbat.

Susie Hawkins enjoys teaching the Bible, speaking, and working with ministry wives from her home base in Dallas, Texas. She has an MA in Theology from Criswell College, and serves on the board of Baptist Global Response (associated with the International Mission Board of the SBC), LifeSavers Foundation. She is the author of  From One Ministry Wife to Another, and has contributed to blogs and various publications. She especially enjoys Tex-Mex lunches with friends and spending time with her grandkids who are beyond awesome.  Susie is married to Dr. O.S. Hawkins, president of Guidestone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. They have two daughters and six grandchildren.

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