Shabbat Shalom: Rites of Passage

May 15, 2020 | Article

Shabbat Shalom: Rites of Passage

Remember the t-shirts that said My parents went to NY, and all I got was lousy t-shirt? I had one, courtesy of my parents, who never failed to bring back small gifts for my siblings and me when they traveled—a tradition that reached back to my grandfather’s generation.

That particular ritual came to mind recently when I woke to find a sign, unceremoniously planted in our front yard, announcing that a graduating senior lives in our house. We joked, Twelve years of school, and all he got was a lousy sign. The humor was sardonic, but the ritual, the marking of a journey’s end, was poignant. At least for me. 

We are all ritualistic. Much has been written about how rites and ceremonies provide a kind of narrative structure with which we make sense of our lives over time. They give our stories beginnings, middles, and ends. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote with eloquence of Shabbat as being a sanctuary in time. Without such rituals, without markers of the passage of time, one day blends into another, one week into the next. Time passes with little note of life’s complexities and its ordinary details.

In our community, spiritual leaders are working to transform ancient ritual to meet the needs of this moment in time. Religious services are conducted onscreen, funerals are conducted without mourners present, and shivas have moved online. And yet, using platforms like Facebook and Zoom, friends and family are still able to participate in these rituals and to find the same comfort in doing so. I “went to” a Zoom shiva and felt profoundly moved to be present in that moment. 

In a few weeks, my son will graduate, and his graduation ceremony will be virtual. I will be as proud of him as if I was watching from the gym risers or a folding chair on the football field—perhaps even prouder because, despite circumstances that are beyond his control and not of his making, he and his friends are focused on what they have, not on what they are missing.

Once he has graduated, though probably not immediately, we will remove the sign that appeared as if by magic on our lawn. And that will become a part of the ritual. And, years from now, we will remember this moment in his life, and we will think, He graduated from high school, and look at all he got.

May this Shabbat provide you a sanctuary in time and the strength to grow in it.

— Rabbi Jay Strear