Shabbat is such an extraordinary gift it defies description. I cannot count the times someone in my household has said, “I don’t know what we would do without Shabbes.” Yet, while most of you appreciate the idea of Shabbat, you consider the practice to be burdensome, restrictive and an interference in your lives.
I know that I will not persuade you, in these few column inches, to become observant of Shabbat. But perhaps I will make you think twice about demoting it to the same status as errands, sports leagues and day trips. Especially, I direct this message to the parents of children of Religious School age.
Some years ago, we initiated a different approach to the hours of Religious School. We had previously held school three days a week – Sunday, Monday and Wednesday – for two hours per day, with an optional Junior Congregation on Shabbat. In response to the dispersion of our members and the shifting school schedules, we expanded Sunday to three hours and eliminated the Monday classes. However, we added an hour of instruction to children’s Shabbat worship, and required attendance most weeks.
Somewhere along the way, many of you have lost sight of the notion that our Shabbat morning program is required of students in grades 3-6. And with the drop in Shabbat morning attendance at our four children’s services has come a diminishing of parental attendance in the sanctuary. Shabbat has become Friday night and Saturday, prime weekend time for shopping, soccer and the Smithsonian. The practical result is our need to re-emphasize the administrative requirements of Religious School. The spiritual result is the squandering of the very special gift of family togetherness, community worship and fulfillment of our covenantal promises to God.
We know that we have work to do as well. Our Shabbat morning leaders are taking a critical look at how the worship and instruction of our children are conducted. Some exciting plans have been generated, appropriate to each age group. In the longer term, we are looking to the years ahead and what kind of integration there will be with the Religious School program – including a consideration of replacing the missing hours of instruction with another weekday session and/or weekend-long programs.
Rabbi Klirs and I are looking at the situation globally, and we welcome your suggestions. But you must do your part. The patterns you set now are hard to reverse as your children’s lives get increasingly complicated. By setting aside now the time for Shabbat togetherness, spiritual grounding and faithfulness, you emphasize the centrality of Jewish values in an complicated and tempting world.
I look forward to greeting you on Shabbat morning in the Cohen Sanctuary, or in Noam I, Noam II, Nitzanim and Gan Shabbat.