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Why This Mompreneur Is Grateful for Shabbat

"Being, Doing" by Marco Acevedo, created for Beth Emet's 5775 theme.

If you’re a driven, self-employed working parent like I am, there’s no internal control mechanism that says it’s time to shut down. I’m nurturing preschool-aged twins, an expanding business, and my next book—entities that call on my resources with infinite demands. Left to my own devices, I would probably crash and burn. In the past, I have.

But something’s changed. I recently rediscovered Shabbat. For those of you who observe Shabbat, you know, in your kishkes, what I’ll say. But for those who may not, read on.

I’ve long hungered for an external “stop” mechanism. As our 24/7 on-switch culture becomes exponentially more “on” with each new smart device, social media channel, and app, my desire to unplug only strengthens. Friday night candles, wine, challah, and our own version of blessings over the children became a mainstay when my husband Marco converted to Judaism after our twins arrived. These rituals have served as a pause button, separating weekend from week. A few weeks ago, we had an opportunity to take our synagogue—and Judaism—up on a standing invitation for more.

Our twins had turned five. Marco had landed a new job. We felt a sliver of bandwidth opening up, enough to begin, again, to explore. So we crawled out of bed on a freezing Chicago morning, around the corner for the Shabbat morning service organized by a family community within our larger synagogue that calls itself Kahal.

Bundled, half-awake, we stumbled downstairs into the wide, florescent-lit room to find something that had been there all along. The sanctuary held old people, young people, and everyone in between, a motley, lovely crew. They’d arrived before us. They knew.

Previous Saturday mornings found the four of us in a huddle under the covers. Here, we joined a communal embrace. The discovery made me weepy. And it only got better from there.

Twenty minutes in, as opening melodies turned toward prayer and our kids grew twitchy, I noticed our occasional mother’s helper, a sweet teen named Ellie, sitting a few rows behind us, with her family. I felt a tap on my shoulder and heard an angelic voice in my ear. It was Ellie, saying, “Want me to take them to babysitting, upstairs?”

I looked at Marco, incredulously. As a writer, I publicly lament the lack of family support from government and the structures in which we work. We’d uprooted our lives in New York City and moved across the country to be closer to our own support system. What Kahal was offering me was holy and rare: A few hours of free babysitting. Time alone, in contemplation, next to my husband in a room full of joyously singing Jews. Free-flowing lemonade and an endless supply of paper cups. I wasn’t just over the rainbow. I was over the moon.

“Yes,” I said, to Ellie—and to the room. “Yes. Please. Thank you.”

The kids followed Ellie. I nestled into Marco’s tallis built for two. I closed my eyes, stopped, breathed, turned the on-switch off, and hit “reflect.” Worldly cares and attachments slipped away. I accessed that part of me that knows to breathe deeply, experience presence, dwell in gratitude. This, I remembered, this.

Two hours later, the patter of little shoes woke me like the ringing of a bell.  Ellie had returned, with our kids. They looked happy. Marco and I felt peaceful. I was awash in love. For the first time all week, I felt not an ounce of guilt.

We plan to come back. The past few Saturdays have found me at conferences or trainings. I long for the resolve to say “no” to work events that fall on Saturdays from here.

The reorientation toward Shabbat is more than a momentary break from the busy. Shabbat has the potential to transform my whole week. By Wednesday night, I’m humming the tune of Shalom Aleichem. On Friday mornings, I call the bakery and reserve a challah for my kids and their sitter to retrieve. My heart starts opening as I look forward to the evening and the day—and days—to come.

I’m grateful to belong to a tradition, five thousand years old, which knows where the off-switch resides. I’d first experienced Shabbat this way as a teenager at camp, a space apart. I’m humbled that, just when I need it most as an adult, Shabbat becomes mine again.

In my travels, I sense a collective yearning for the off-switch among our wider community of working parents with young kids. How fortunate I feel that this season, I’m finding a way to flip the switch right here in my own backyard. Gratitude and presence is where I want to live. Full stop. Shabbat shalom.

“The whole wide world is waiting… to sing a song of Shabbos… The whole wide world is waiting… to sing a song of Shabbos…”

Topics: Ritual
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How to cite this page

Siegel, Deborah. "Why This Mompreneur Is Grateful for Shabbat." 10 December 2014. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 28, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/why-this-mompreneur-is-grateful-for-shabbat>.

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