My name is Justin and I am a workaholic. So the idea of me putting down my phone for a day will strike those who know me as somewhat fanciful.
But I’m delighted to report it is possible. Last weekend, I joined tens of thousands of British Jews, many of whom have not kept Shabbat for years or ever, in shunning technology in favour of shul, socialising and snacking. Especially snacking.
For me, Shabbat UK began with prayers at the home of Marc and Sharon Sacofsky in Elstree; I had barely taken two steps through his front door when I was offered my first whisky of the night. “Pre-drinks as the youth call it,” he said. Israeli line dancing followed, complimented by rather animated singing from some of the Sacofsky’s neighbours.
It was the first of four stops on a kind of Shabbat crawl known locally as the Elstree Street party. The brainchild of Mendy Tajtelbaum, the much-loved founder of Elstree shteibel, the event saw 130 residents of Barham Avenue, Links Drive and Orchard Avenue walking from home to home, tucking into a different course in each including the main course at the Tajtelbaums. The format of the evening provided a great opportunity for maximising mingling and other communities could do worse than following Elstree’s lead, even if on a smaller scale.
It was just as well that I had a long walk to Elstree and Borehamwood shul the following morning as I’d been warned about the legendary desserts at my lunch hosts Joanna and Simon Hamilton. Little did I know I was in for one of the best meals I’ve ever had, with as many options as your average restaurant. The 20-plus guests even enjoyed some impromptu stand-up provided by five-year-old Izzy, the son of our hosts friends.
I have for a while made an effort to scale back what I do on Shabbat but I’m if honest I hadn’t jumped at the chance to keep it fully. While I have witnessed how much my brother and his family get from the day, I had just not seen it as being for me. But last weekend was a wonderful reminder of the joy that Shabbat brings to so many each week; to hear from some about how the day enhances the rest of their week and others about how they realise they are missing out of some things but that is outweighed by what they gain. Beyond the religious dimension, it was a privilege to be part of such quality family time.
Before mincha, when I explained to Borehamwood’s rabbi that I was keeping Shabbat for the Jewish News, he suggested with a smile I was actually doing it for myself. I’m not saying I’m suddenly going to do it every week but I would like to do more from time to time – this time very much for myself.