Saturday, August 13, 2022 -
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So different — yet, the same

It’s interesting, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where I live, I always had a soft spot for the pre-Shabbat mad-dash of the 18 minutes. It’s endearing to see Jews rushing in the streets and markets of Manhattan to make the anticipated Shabbat candle lighting time.

These Jews may not necessarily be externally identified as Jews, yet when you stand with them as part of a snaking line in wait for the cashier, and it’s exactly on Friday, the time of day when twilight is approaching, you just know.

Even without seeing the carts or baskets of each of the people in the grocery line, all the baskets that are filled with challah, babka, grape juice — and other various foods indicative of throwing together a Shabbat meal — you just sense it.

I do, however, once recall standing in line when the 18 minutes were drawing nearer and nearer, and to my surprise, the person in front of me was carrying a basket holding a package of cold sliced deli, flanken, potatoes, onions, barley and beans. Hmmm, I wonder what he is planning on preparing? Of course the dish these ingredients would coalesce into was no doubt a hot Shabbat cholent — but practically at the 18 minutes? Wow, now that was a new level of pre-Shabbat mad-dashery, if I ever did see it.

As we stood together in this regular, not exclusively kosher, Upper West Side market, he must have noticed me eyeing the contents of his cart, in wonder. “I’m having eight guests tomorrow for Shabbat lunch,” he commented casually. “It’s permissible to put a cholent up adjacent to candle lighting, when the ingredients are raw,” he said. “I’m cutting the onions and potatoes in huge chunks, pouring a sauce over it all, turning on the crock pot, and there you have it, Shabbos lunch main course is prepared.”

I marveled at his calmness. Not only was he putting up a cholent seconds before Shabbat, but he was hosting too?

Mi ke-amcha Yisrael, who is like unto you, Israel?” I silently think to myself as so many young professional Jews pause for our sacred island in time.

On the quick walk home, various others rushing just as quickly are passed by. Some clutching flowers in hand. Others a bottle of wine. And some weighed down by heavy and brimming grocery bags in both hands.

Shabbat is approaching. It’s palpable in these glowy pre-Shabbat twilight moments, even in a secular hip neighborhood like the Upper West Side, which in these golden moments feels transformed into a little shtetl.

This past Friday, I decided to treat myself to a Shabbat hair styling, so I moseyed into a hair salon in Jerusalem. It was not even two o’clock — maybe 1:30. Shabbat candle lighting was hours away. Ah, the long day of a summer erev Shabbat.

After securing an appointment with the receptionist, who had quickly found a stylist to help me, the stylist said to me and said, somewhat urgently, “Fast fast, Shabbat Shabbat, Shabbat is approaching.”

I quickened my pace so it reflected the urgency the stylist was expressing, and I couldn’t help but marvel how even a hair salon in Jerusalem, replete with secular employees, is Shabbat conscious. At not that far away from high noon, on a Friday with a long day still stretching before us.

And that is how I heard a little lecture about the Biblical character of Asaf, for the stylist’s name is Asaf.

“You know Shabbat isn’t something you just rush into last minute. You will be my last client of the day,” he tells me. He then proceeds to enlighten me with his erev Shabbat preparations, as well as enlighten me about his name.

His namesake is Asaf, he explained. He was a Levite who sang in the Temple, who was among those who accompanied the Ark of the Covenant, and to whom 12 Psalms are attributed.

“You know, if you pay attention, you’ll notice every person with the name Asaf is a good and kind person.

It’s the legacy of the original Asaf, I believe, who sang in the Temple and accompanied the Ark of the Covenant.”

There was so much he continued to share, as he worked expediently, swiftly styling my hair, competing with the erev Shabbat clock he so palpably felt, and completing his task at hand in record time.

I couldn’t believe the brisk pace of his work. “Shabbat, Shabbat,” Asaf murmured with a smile.

As I internalized the gap in time between now and the long pending Shabbat candle lighting that was still hours away, I thought of the beloved and rapid 18-minute momentum of the Upper West Side supermarkets and groceries.

Two cities. Two erev Shabbats. So different. Yet the same.

Shabbat, Shabbat.

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Tehilla Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park


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