I met Georgina at night school. It was one of those courses being offered to people who had been away from school and study for some time and were considering going back to college. She was a few years younger than me and not sure of her path in life. I’d been “lost” for so many years I’m not sure I’d have recognized my path if I saw it! But I was trying; I mean I was at night school, no?
I’m not exactly sure how we came to be friends. There were about twenty five of us in class and we were often paired up or asked to do a project in small groups, so perhaps that was how we first came together. I do remember however that she was pretty focused in her studies and so was I. Maybe that was the first attraction.
One evening in Social Studies the topic of religion came up and I found out that Georgina was Jewish – orthodox. She shared with the class how important her faith was to her and described some of the basic beliefs of the Jewish faith. In talking she mentioned the Sabbath and how she observed it each week, and I was intrigued.
A few weeks later I was having a very stressful time. One of my teenage sons was acting up and causing difficulties at home. I was a divorced single mother and life was never too easy at the best of times. My boss, who was Jewish, noticed that I wasn’t my usual “Miss Sunshine” (my nickname at work), and jokingly said, “what you need is a Sabbath”. A bell went off in my head and I called Georgina immediately.
I arranged for the boys to go straight from school on Friday to my mother’s. With my weekender packed I left work early as I had to be at Georgina’s before sunset. My boss had happily given me a couple of hours off and sent me on my way with a Jewish blessing.
Georgina greeted me and quickly explained the “mechanics” of the weekend. All the lights were on timers. Food for the next twenty four hours was already prepared and kept warm on low settings on the stove. No work of any description was to be undertaken until sunset the next day. The telephone would not be answered, neither radio nor television would be turned on, no money would be handled. This was a time dedicated to the Lord through total relaxation and worship.
I asked about the worship. Georgina led me immediately into the “opening ceremonies”, breaking the sweet bread and sharing it with me along with the sweet wine. (She knew I did not drink alcohol and so she had provided me with special sweet, non alcoholic grape juice.) There were ritual prayers said and Sabbath was officially begun. She said that we would attend synagogue in the morning.
The next day, after breakfast, we walked to synagogue. We could not take the bus because of the “no money” rule, but it was a pleasant day and she lived in a a really lovely neighborhood, so it was very enjoyable. Once arrived, we entered and I couldn’t help but notice that the men went in one door and the women another. I followed Georgina along with the other women.
Nothing could have prepared me for the violent internal reaction that I had when we entered the inner part of the synagogue. It didn’t take me long to realize that the women were on a slightly upper level from the men and that we were barricaded, separated off from them by wrought iron bars.
As the service began it became quickly obvious that the men did everything and the women were completely excluded from any active participation. I was furious. How dare they do this! Who did they think they were? I could feel steam coming out of my ears. And how could my “feminist” friend Georgina put up with this?
In a brief moment of sanity it occurred to me that I had come here to worship God. I took some slow deep breathes and snuck a look at Georgina. She was peaceful and calm, immersed in the ritual, saying the prayers. Then I had the grace to surrender as I realized that this was not MY religion, not My belief system. I was just along for the ride and the experience and I could still pray to the God of my understanding in the same way as I did when I went to my church.
After the service there was fellowship. Everyone was welcoming and kind. The Rabbi was warm and shared his pleasure that I, a Roman Catholic, had wanted to share in my friend’s faith form. He said that was surely a sign of a good friendship. I had the grace to blush internally as I remembered my earlier “moment of madness”.
Georgina and I left after a while and went for a stroll in the park. I couldn’t remember the last time I had walked in a park – perhaps when my boys were still very small. Arriving home we had lunch which was all prepared and the dishes were left on the side until after sunset. The afternoon was so calm and tranquil. We chatted, we read, we relaxed and were content. I was full of an inner peace as never before.
When sunset came around, we closed Sabbath with another set of prayers. Then I helped Georgina clear up and reluctantly packed my over nighter ready to go home. The Sabbath had been a veritable oasis for me, a place, a time, for refreshment and restoration. I spent a few more wonderful Sabbaths with Georgina before leaving the UK. To this day I use the expression “I need a Sabbath” when I recognize the need to pull back from the world and restore and refresh my spirit.