Shabbat this past Friday was celebrated in six different homes in six different neighborhoods around the San Fernando and Conejo Valleys. Prayer services were led by regular Jews. Oneg Shabbat, sweet desserts, baked or bought, was enjoyed “pot luck” style. No need for the rabbi to lead services at Temple. So what’s a rabbi to do on such a Shabbat?
My wife Michelle and I love Congregation Or Ami’s annual Neighborhood Shabbat as it gives us the opportunity to celebrate Shabbat with a diverse group of Jewish individuals and families spread out from Tarzana through Agoura. (A few years ago, our North American Reform Jewish Movement won a creative programming award for this project.) Thanks to the organizational acumen of Calabasas resident (and Bay Laurel Elementary School teacher) Kathleen Sternbach, we joined over 100 Or Ami families who attend one of the Shabbat experiences in their own neighborhood. So, plugging six addresses into our GPS, we boarded our Shabbat-mobile (Honda Odyssey minivan) to experience Shabbat on the road. Thus the Rabbi began his house calls.
In living rooms across the Conejo and West San Fernando Valleys, with warmth and informality, we experienced a haimische (warm family friendly) Sabbath. We lit candles and blessed the wine and challah (bread) at the Spears/Ginsburg family’s Woodland Hills home, and then chanted Shabbat service prayers at the Barnes family’s Tarzana home and at the Sternbach’s Calabasas Park home. We ate a delicious dinner at the Melnick’s Calabasas Park home, followed by desserts at the Pattiz family’s Agoura home and at the Evans family’s Park Granada home.
What did this rabbi learn while making Shabbat house calls? Though we spent only a few minutes in each location, Michelle and I were moved by the pervading sense of warmth and community. Neighbors were getting to know each other by means of our age-old Jewish tradition. Relationships were being built upon shared experiences created in our own homes. Holiness discovered in the living room and around the dining room table.
We are told that our Biblical ancestor Jacob, wandering in the wilderness, dreamt of a ladder ascending to heaven, with angels climbing up and down. God stood beside the ladder and assured Jacob that God would be with him throughout his life. Jacob awoke soon after and called out, “Wow, God was in this place and I did not know it!”
One participant commented similarly that he never imagined that he could have such a spiritual, community experience in his own home. That’s why Or Ami dedicates one Shabbat a year as Neighborhood Shabbat. To remind people, or to teach them anew, that holiness can be found everywhere. I slept soundly that Shabbat, refreshed from an evening of spiritual house calls, renewed in my own commitment to the holiness of Shabbat in community.