DAY 1067: Outside the Box? Assessing “Let’s Do Shabbos Together: Shabbat Meals Across Beth Mordecai”

June 2, 2015
By bethmordecai
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DAY 1067: Outside the Box? Assessing “Let’s Do Shabbos Together: Shabbat Meals Across Beth Mordecai”

Dear Hevreh,

The term “thinking outside the box” is one I find problematic. It’s meant to describe someone who is creative in finding alternative ways to get things done, with the “box” symbolizing the way things normally get done. The first problem with this concept is that people or ideas labeled as “outside the box” are assumed to not care about “the box,” i.e. about the usual way things get done. There is a reason why things “inside the box” have gotten done in a certain way for a long period of time. These things “inside the box” are called customs and the longevity of customs is a testament to the strength of their meaning and their usefulness. And when customs reach a certain threshold of time, they become traditions like coming together for services every Shabbat. This tradition is still valuable and meaningful to our community, just like it is to so many others. Trying an alternative way of celebrating Shabbat, as we did this past weekend does not negate its importance which is why we’re returning to our normal Shabbat service schedule this weekend.

The second problem with the concept of “thinking outside the box” is that, depending on your perspective, things labeled as such aren’t usually outside the box rather they are “expanding” the box. If you view Shabbat as the tradition of coming to services, then canceling services for adinner/lunch program would be outside the box. But if you view Shabbat as all of those traditions and customs associated with celebrating and observing Shabbat, then a dinner/lunchprogram would fit within the box very nicely because it’s a way Jews honored Shabbat for centuries. By bringing this program into the midst of our community we “expand” the box of how we view Shabbat from just being about services to a wide range of activities including Shabbat meals and Shabbat games (as we will experience two weekends from now during Shabbat: Are You Game). By expanding our view of what Shabbat can look like, we can make the restful and transformative Shabbat experience more accessible to people.

That being said, there is more work to be done if these “expanded” models of experiencing Shabbat in our community take hold. Though all of the results are not in, everyone who has offered feedback from this weekend’s event have said they would like to attend again — most said they got to know someone new, they reconnected with people they already knew, experienced the restfulness of Shabbat, discussed/shared something of interest, and understood the Shabbat meal ritual. That being said, the results are mixed as to whether or not this program is worth canceling services. I believe this ambivalence is based on the fact that while these meals are nice social events, they also need to be teaching opportunities to share the wisdom of our tradition. That kind of teaching happens naturally over the course of a service, but there needs to be more intention in making it happen over the course of a meal.

As we continue to collect data from this event and from our upcoming alternative Shabbat: Are You Game, we will assess if our community sees these “outside the box” Shabbat activities expanding our understanding of what the box of Shabbat could look like.

Kol Tuv,

Rabbi Ari Saks

Category : Let's Do Shabbos Together Rabbi Rabbi's Journal Shabbat
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