Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Friday Night Lights, by Esther Kustanowitz

I’m delighted that Esther published this on her blog—it’s similar to the article she published in the June 24, 2005 New York Jewish Week—because I was trying to figure out a way to share it with you. It’s a good thing for her to remind some of us old married folks that being single and Jewish is no picnic—I remember it well, but not fondly—and to share her thoughts with others in the same boat.

(Thanks to the newlywed [mazal tov!] NaomiChana of for providing this link.)

Update: Ms. Lost in (Cyber)Space never thought to try to find the article on the Jewish Week's own website. Here's the original:

". . . But say I’m not invited out, can’t afford singles dinners every week, and don’t feel comfortable inviting myself somewhere else. Then I’m stuck there, with challah rolls, salad and a bottle of wine that I’ll decide not to open for just myself, watching those candles flickering. Growing up, Shabbat candles meant time with my family, or with friends in the sticky summer heat at Camp Ramah.

Now, they invoke the hazy, increasingly uncertain promise of a future family that I don’t have. These candles, which are supposed to embody the endless optimism of a day of rest, work another mojo — unsettling my mind and making me feel lonelier. It’s like they’re squinting at me, trying to figure out what I’m doing there by myself. Their unsteadiness seems to symbolize my search for meaning in rituals that are clearly meant, optimally, for families.

When you’re single, often dancing between movements and synagogues, and feeling at home nowhere but your own home, 25 hours without electricity can be an endlessly lonely time, starkly lacking in actual and spiritual illumination. And the more you know about observant Judaism, the worse it gets. Judaism should provide you with a framework for faith: Heschel aficionados will happily invoke the concept of Shabbat as a palace in time, wherein we are the monarchs of our lives, freed of the trappings and the worries of the everyday.

But for many singles who repeatedly experience the insulated isolation of Shabbat, a shameful truth emerges: Shabbat and holidays specifically, and Judaism as a whole, primarily provides a framework for family faith and community spirituality. Take away the family, community, neighborhood, or synagogue, and how many would still believe and observe from the core of their being? How much personal commitment comes from the desire to belong to a certain community? Why should I light candles if I find them so upsetting?"

"25 hours without electricity can be an endlessly lonely time . . ." Nobody talks about that, do they? How do single Orthodox Jews survive for the many hours during which they can't use the phone or the computer, and can't watch TV or movies, listen to radio, or play music, hours during which they have, literally, no one to talk to and nothing to watch or listen to? How many hours can one spending reading and napping on a long and rainy afternoon in the summer, when Shabbat (Sabbath) lasts past 9 PM?

The use of electricity on Shabbat or Yom Tov (a Pilgrimage Festival) may not be a concern for me, but still, the prospect of spending these days alone is not something to which I look forward. I'm in my mid-fifties, married to a man in his early sixties, with a son in his early twenties who'll be off on his own in a few years. Thirty years from now, I'll be back in the same boat that I was in when I was in my twenties—I'll be single again. It's tough enough no longer having a child to bless on Friday nights. How will it feel, lighting candles alone again after so many years?


Blogger Maya Resnikoff said...

I'm in my 20s, single, and Thank G-d, lucky enough to have some lovely friends with whom to make shabbos meals and spend time. Someday, may it be many, many years from now, should you end up alone, maybe there will some other older Jewish ladies and gentlemen in your area with whom you can make shabbat meals. It takes some planning that the families don't have to do- but you also get to do less cooking.

Fri Apr 18, 01:45:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

That will depend largely on where I end up living, and who else is living there. But I certainly hope to be able to share Shabbat with other widows and widowers, when the time comes that I join that camp.

Wed Apr 23, 12:34:00 AM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, I find shabbat alone quite nice.

But that's because I plan out my time- I devote my "alone shabboses" to something I won't do during the week - Torah study broadly defined [OK, VERY broadly defined], by which I mean reading about Judaism- or religion- related matters. I usually get through a book every week or two, and over the past seven years or so have evolved from being totally ignorant to merely being ill-informed.

Once or twice a month, I spend shabbos with relatives 300 miles away - usually being pulled like a wishbone by nieces competing to play with me. As pleasant as this is, I'm glad I don't do it every week.

Wed Apr 23, 04:59:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Reading, particularly on Jewish subjects, is another good option for Shabbat, and certainly one for which I'll have to plan better for those Shabbatot when I'll be by myself.

Wed Apr 23, 09:54:00 PM 2008  

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