I have a confession: Shabbos isn’t so fun for me. During the week I’m busy taking care of my toddler, cleaning and organizing the house, preparing meals, running errands and helping grow a small doula business. By the time Thursday night or Friday morning arrives, I have very little energy left to put together a 4-course meal.
I tried for a while. I would stay up very late or wake up very early and make sure the house was just perfect and that each recipe was prepared with loving tenderness and deep kavanah. My husband didn’t like to make early Shabbos so I would try to keep my daughter up for Kiddush and Hamotzi but it didn’t always work, and if it did her sleep schedule was so twisted that the next day was awful.
It wasn’t any easier for my husband. He would make Kiddush and enjoy some Challah and dips and compliment the fish and salads. Then pretty much every week he would fall asleep. His one-hour plus commute each day, managing a challenging classroom of children with special needs, and of course helping me with the house and our kid was exhausting. He always apologized as he snorted awake, struggling to get through the meal. Still waking periodically to take a few bites long after I retired to bed.
Shabbos has changed. It doesn’t have the same spiritual meaning that it did in my learning days. Well, maybe it does and I’m just not tapping into it anymore.
When I was single I would spend Shabbos meals with nearby friends. We would stay up late and talk and waste long afternoons learning, singing, and going for walks. It just doesn’t seem like I can do that anymore. Even if we have guests, the ritual of the meal holds little in the way of warm fuzzy feelings and a lot in the way of exhausted resentment.
Now that I have a family of my own Shabbos has a different dynamic. This is supposed to be the “day of rest”, not the “day of slave all week so that you have no choice but to collapse”. I spend so much time getting the house ready that there is little energy left for connection.
Feeling that I couldn’t be the only one struggling, I asked around about other women’s experiences. I honestly don’t even know why I bothered sharing this sentiment with my friends.
“You only have one kid!” they would say.
“Your husband helps you, what are you complaining about?”
What was I complaining about??
I was complaining that I worked hard to put together a beautiful Shabbos and nobody could enjoy it. I was complaining that I KNOW I’m not the only one. I knew that I needed to do something, but didn’t know where to begin.
So we made some small changes. Weeks were spent last summer encouraging my husband to look into the halachos of early Shabbos. “Please”, I begged him. “I don’t like that we don’t have the meal together”. Eventually, he conceded. We cut down the night meal to two or three courses with a lot less food.
Our budgets and bellies thanked us.
It helped a little, but not enough. I still worked really hard to get everything ready and my husband was still sleeping almost as soon as the first course was over. I was sleeping long stretches on Shabbos afternoon to recover and to gear up for the next week. We spent almost no time together.
I had to change my focus. My primary goal is no longer keeping Shabbos for the sake of Shabbos. I’ve never been one to do something “just because”. I had to have a purpose for Shabbos other than to just fulfill the halachos and meticulously scrape to make sure each minhag was followed precisely.
I want Shabbos to bring my family together.
That’s when I came up with a plan for camping Shabbos.
Shabbos is supposed to be a simple time. Obligation free. All you have to do is exist in the world. This upcoming Shabbos, I’m taking my family out of the community, into the woods. We will build an eruv, and prepare a backwoods Shabbos “feast”. We will be together without the distractions. I don’t think it will be a quick fix, but I do think it will be a nice retreat and hopefully reboot from the program we’ve established.
In the woods you can’t tell the difference between Shabbos and weekday. There aren’t any stores to close, or shuls to get to. It’s just you and creation. I’m hoping that Shabbos in the forest will be a simpler Shabbos. One of essence and essentials.
We aren’t the only people to do this. Some of our friends have been camping on Shabbos. They passed along some pointers, including “Don’t do it”.
I asked in a Jewish forum for some tips on preparing for Shabbos in the woods and the critics came out.
“Why would you do that?”
“What about a minyan?”
“So you’ll eat cold food?”
But I did receive some good advice such as to set up the hand washing station over a rock so that we aren’t pouring water into the soil and take a watch so you can be aware of when Shabbos is over.
I’m still working pretty hard to get everything together. I have to prepare our meals and package them for safe transport and storage without a fridge. I have to make sure we have warm enough clothes, and everything we need for our toddler. I have to inventory and repair our gear. However, it doesn’t feel like chores. I’m actually excited. I’m excited for Shabbos – I haven’t been excited for Shabbos in a long time.
In a previous life I loved backpacking and camping. Some of my happiest moments have been while in the woods and I’m hoping to build some more happy memories next weekend.
In addition to writing for JN, Tzipi also works as a birth and post partum doula. She currently lives in New Jersey with her husband and daughter. This is the third sentence in this paragraph.
Header image courtesy of Creative Commons.