I am working this summer for the Jewish Community Center in Chicago. As a counselor at a day camp, I work with 13 girls entering first grade in the fall. As a non-Jewish counselor at this particular day camp, I have a lot of questions and a lot of ignorance concerning things that are completely normal for most of my colleagues. Because of this, I have had the opportunity to learn an incredible amount about a culture I was previously unexposed to. And much of this mirrors what I am expecting to experience in Romania, in a lot of little ways.
For instance, there were a lot of humorous times in my week of staff training. I had no idea what “keeping kosher” meant, and still had to ask about a million questions to clarify once I learned the definition. Just so everyone knows, meat and dairy products must be consumed separately. Not only in separate bites, but in separate meals (I got a lot of weird looks for this question). Additionally, the “ch” sound in Hebrew most closely resembles an “h” sound with a wad of phlegm in the throat- this means that “chug” on the weekly schedule is not an invitation to down a quick drink but to learn about Israeli culture.
One of the things that I learned this week about the Jewish culture is the importance of “separation.” Whatever you want to take from this, the ancient Israelites, while wandering in the wilderness, established a pattern of separating the “holy” from the sand (“chol”). In order to remain faithful and in connection with the Divine, they established rituals of separation- both of time and of food. Time, of course, is what I have heard called “Sabbath,” and they call it “Shabbat.”
I celebrated Shabbat for the first time last week, and it was an observance of joy and beauty. There is something good and pure about honoring time, setting aside specified moments to simply reflect. This is time separate from the rest of the stuff that clutters the moment, the day, the week, the lifetime.
I am completely in agreement and understanding that time set apart to be sacred is incredibly meaningful and beneficial. However, I have also been thinking a lot about the “chol.” The sand of the wilderness, the everyday tasks, the moments of normalcy- these are all becoming beautiful to me. I am coming to anticipate a lot of chol in my life in Romania. And if I try to find the exquisite in the regular of simply loving people and teaching children and living life, I have a feeling the sacred will be even more spectacular.