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The Peacefulness of Shabbat

Meet One of Our Past Discover Israel Participants

02.23.2017
Hanah McCabe
Hanah McCabe Birthright Israel

Hanah McCabe is a 26 year old aspiring author who is currently working on writing her first novel. She lives in Arizona with her husband, dog and cat. Hanah loves to read, write and travel. She had such a meaningful Birthright Israel experience on the Discover Israel trip, she hopes to return to Israel and possibly staff a Birthright trip. Read all about Hanah's meaningful Shabbat experience on Birthright just a few weeks agos! 

Before going on Birthright's Discover Israel trip, if someone had asked me what Shabbat means to me, I would probably have shrugged. I grew up in a secular household in the United States. Shabbat was simply the end of the work week. We didn't celebrate or mark it's entrances or exits in any way. I knew of its existence, but it wasn't part of my life.

When the sun set on Friday during my Birthright trip to Israel, we were staying in Sde Boker, a tiny town in the Negev desert, overlooking a vast valley of sand and rock and sparse populations of trees. David Ben-Gurion used to live here, and his tomb sits near the edge of a cliff face, overlooking the valley, not far from our accommodations. 

To start Shabbat, we lit some candles and someone sang a prayer. Before dinner we headed back out to the desert area near where we were staying for a couple reflection activities. We raised our arms up in a circle and closed our eyes while Lauren, a fellow Birthright participant, went through everything we had done since landing in New York a lifetime ago: seeing the Syrian border, visiting Caesarea, exploring the markets of Tel Aviv, sleeping in a Bedouin tent, riding camels at sunrise.

When she finally got to Sde Boker, to where we stood, we lowered our aching arms as a physical symbol of the feeling of relief Shabbat is supposed to bring. 

We then did an activity in which everyone kept their eyes closed and people in the center tapped the shoulders of people who had made them smile, who they thought were good friends, who they wanted to get to know, etc. It was a beautiful way to show appreciation for the other people in the group.

Saturday morning we had the chance to sleep in, but after waking up at 6 every day, I couldn't sleep past 8, so I went for a walk around the walls of the valley and took photos of the beautiful view. I met some friends for breakfast, before doing some yoga. On the way to yoga we came across a herd of Ibex chilling on the side of the cliff. One of them had even come up over the fence and was casually eating grass next to David Ben-Gurion's tomb.

After yoga we had an interesting talk about immigration waves to Israel and the various issues and solutions each one produced, and then we did a fun activity the Israelis had planned for us -- translated Israeli pop songs into English and did karaoke with them! After this was lunch and then free time, which I spent collection music suggestions from everyone and listening to Israeli music provided by a few of our new Israeli friends. It was a great way to share music.

We met up with everyone again around 4:30 and did an incredible activity about Jewish identity. 

Each person was given a string. Around the room were taped up papers, each with an answer to a question about how you viewsomething written on them -- how do you see the State of Israel? Is there a God? What is Shabbat? What is the Torah?

As Emily, our staff-person, asked the questions, everyone would go stand next to the answer they agreed with most. If they disagreed with all of them, they could stand in the middle. There were no right or wrong places to stand. Emily handed out different colored beads based on where you stood. Later on we discovered the beads corresponded with different answers given by different sects of Judaism.

Most of my beads were purple, which we learned later meant I gave secular answers. One was green - reform. That was the bead I got for "is there a god?" One was actually pink - Hasidic! That was for what Shabbat means to me: a time to celebrate and rejuvenate, be spiritually centered before the new week.

We closed Shabbat at sundown with a circle near Ben-Gurion’s tomb. Everyone had their arms around their neighbors and we swayed slightly as we sang together. 

Having grown up in a non-religious household, this sort of spiritual, refreshing tradition had never been part of my life before Birthright. But standing there in the soft light of a single candle, surrounded by my new friends - many of whom were already like family - I realized something. I wanted to preserve a bit of that peace I had cultivated within myself over the last twenty-four hours. I wanted to bring this feeling of Shabbat home with me.

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