December 2010: Shabbat in the Woods

Many of you know that I feel passionately and strongly about Shabbat observance.  I am not one to judge others on what level of observance they maintain and by no means consider my personal level of observance as a gold standard.  Instead, I feel that the inner peace and relaxation that accompany Shabbat and prayer are worthy of sharing and encourage people to participate at whatever level they are comfortable.  For me, my favorite place to observe Shabbat is at Temple Beth Sholom.  If for some reason I am not there, you will likely find me in my second favorite place – the woods.

On recent November weekend, I joined the Scouts of Troop 41 for an adventure at a Boy Scout camp in northern Connecticut.  The Troop largely consists of Jewish Scouts, with a significant enough representation that Kashrut is currently maintained on overnight trips.  Although this is not always convenient (like the time we had homemade blackbean burgers two nights in a row at the AMC huts when we were backpacking on Mount Washington), the Scouts themselves feel strongly enough about it to have created this policy on their own and maintain it on their own.  And, even though Shabbat consists of activities that may not be considered strictly in accordance with Halachah, Shabbat is observed by the Scouts on all the trips.

Scout-organized and Scout-led Kabbalat Shabbat and Havdallah ceremonies are some of the most meaningful Shabbat experiences I have had.  There is something special and heart-warming about watching 15 boys between the ages of 11 and 18 stop whatever they are doing and gather together as soon as someone calls for Kabbalat Shabbat to begin.  They start quietly as they light a set of candles and recite the blessing together, build their ruach as they all chant the Kiddush over small cups of grape juice, and finally their spirit bursts out when they finish the Hamotzi and attack the challah.

Havdallah, on the other hand, is much more subdued.  As they sing the niggun that begins the Havdallah ceremony, everyone is much quieter and remains this way as they chant the blessings until finally they break into a spirited Shavua Tov.  Maybe they are just exhausted from living outdoors or a full day of activities, but I like to think they are temporarily saddened by the ending of Shabbat.  The end of the Havdallah ceremony, however, means the start of the evening campfire, so the spirits quickly rise with the flames as the new week begins with friendship.

Kol Tov,