I searched frantically through the clothes in my luggage. What should I wear to my first Shabbat? I am not Jewish, but I wanted to dress for the occasion. I had to find something fairly elegant, but needed to wear comfortable shoes on Jerusalem’s mosaic-like stone streets. Tell that to the girl who just realized she packed more high heels than Miss America!
Our wonderful Philos tour group finally arrived at the beautiful home of the couple receiving us for Shabbat. To our surprise, the family was hosting Shabbat for more than 45 Israeli Defense Forces soldiers on the roof of their home. To say they were extremely generous would be an understatement. The heart this couple has for honoring their military and for opening their home to complete strangers like us every Friday afternoon was inspiring.
What is Shabbat?
Shabbat or Shabbos is the Jewish day of rest and seventh day of the week, on which religious Jews remember the Biblical creation of the heavens and the earth in six days and the Exodus of the Hebrews and look forward to a future Messianic Age. Shabbat observance entails refraining from work activities, often with great rigor, and engaging in restful activities to honor the day.
We were treated like royalty and received with a feast that began with an enthusiastic Jewish guitarist who led us in a medley of Hebrew songs. My husband and I had never witnessed such warm-hearted reception of the Sabbath. It is common for many Christians to view obedience to God’s commands as a martyr-like act of “taking up your cross.” But these people joyously cherished and obedience to the Sabbath as if they were about to meet Hashem for dinner as soon as the sun set over the mount. The warmth, love, joy and generosity radiated from our hosts and made us wish the celebration would never end.
The hostess invited the women to join her in lighting the candles as the men lined up to pray at the Wailing Wall. She graced us with a special prayer and then asked us to name any loved ones who were suffering with illnesses or diseases so she could pray for them. As a lead intercessor in my church, I felt like I could have listed our entire congregation. To avoid taking too much of an advantage of the prayer invitation, I named two of my friends who are struggling with cancer, tumors and more. My host prayed a blessing over them in Hebrew and then led us to the Wailing Wall.
Our experience at the Wailing Wall could be another article in itself. The place is absolutely beautiful.
When we returned to our hosts’ home, a familiar face joined our group near the buffet. “Hi, I’m Omri,” he said, in greeting each of us. One of the NBA fans in our group whispered to the rest of us that our fellow Shabbat celebrator was none other than Omri Casspi from Sacramento, who plays in the NBA. The bad news was, since it was Shabbat, we were not allowed to take photographs or videos of the celebration. My husband and I chuckled to ourselves that our friends would never believe we had spent Shabbat with Omri Casspi. We knew that many Sacramento fans back home would have killed to be in our shoes!
Dinner itself was precious. The host provided each of us with a hymnal and led us through another medley of sweet Hebrew songs. Not understanding much of the language, my husband Jerry and hummed along for a while, before realizing halfway through that we would do our hosts a greater favor if we remained silent and let them do the singing. Omri joined the rest of the men as they stood up to dedicate a song to their wives or partners beside them. I was moved by listening to Proverbs 31 in Hebrew; I have never before witnessed such honor at a dinner table. That beautiful observance allowed us to truly experience the scripture that is already so dear to us.
Toward the end of our dinner, our hostess announced that Omri – who had disappeared with his girlfriend Shani Ruderman – had just proposed on the rooftop! And Shani said yes. Excitement filled the room and the men took Omri aside to dance, as the hostess pulled the women outside to do the same with Shani. We danced around Shani and took turns twirling with her in the center as we rejoiced for her upcoming marriage. When the dancing came to an end, the hostess invited the married women to offer a word of advice for Shani. I hesitated to share, knowing I was nothing but a brief acquaintance in her life, but it was a joy to listen to the simple yet profound words of guidance each guest shared. It was a night that became much more than just our first Shabbat.
As we gave our farewells at the door, I was nagged by the thought that we had enjoyed this epic Shabbat with Omri, Shani and this beautiful group of people without any photographic evidence. But one of our team nudged me and whispered that the photography rule did not apply to us, since we were not Jewish.
Ending Shabbat on a high note, I hastily snapped a selfie with Omri and Shani in the distant background. This was truly an evening to remember.
Shabbat Shalom, everyone!