Two years after beginning the process of conversion to Judaism, Nellie Bowles reflects on coming to appreciate the beauties and challenges of Shabbat. Writing last Thursday, she found herself “dreading shutting off the faucet of news out of DC,” and thus realizing she had all the more reason to do so. She recalls her initial resistance to the Jewish day of rest:
Why does it have to be Friday night to Saturday night? I get the point of resting, but couldn’t I adjust it a bit for what works best for my [schedule]? When I talked about this with my rabbi, Noa Kushner, she explained that part of it is just submission to the tradition. It’s Friday nights because it’s Friday nights.
With some time, Bowles began to find the weekly routine salubrious, a superior version of the “tech detox” recommended by the trendy gurus of “wellness.” Yet she also understood that such a perspective on the holy day effectively reduces religion to a form of self-help. To observe Shabbat, she writes, is much more than that: it is to “continue a project started long before me, for reasons I only partly understand.”
But then came the coronavirus:
Without friends and shul, it was hard to make the day feel special. It certainly didn’t feel holy. Saturday rolled around, and I looked at my phone all the time. And so it was that I came to Shabbat this past week with a new determination. . . . Going 25 hours without touching electronics during lockdown was, let’s say, humbling. Miserable at points. Depressing in its clarity about how atrophied my self-control had become.
And it was precisely the difficulty, she writes, that helped her renew her commitment to observance.