The Jewish Chronicle
Jumbo guest Shabbat challenges
SHABBAT IS a day of rest — but observing Shabbat isn’t always calm and peaceful. In fact sometimes it can be a challenge. If you’re in hospital or on holiday, alone or in crisis, you may need to be resourceful.
Clive Lawton is COE of the Commonwealth Jewish Council, scholar in residence at JW3, and senior consultant to Limmud. His travels have taken him around the globe; jumping off a bus en route to Athens as Shabbat arrived, he pitched tent in haste on a deserted Greek beach, sipped wine and ate his mini challah rolls to the sound of the lapping waves, and sang his zemirot accompanied by the pipe of a Greek shepherd.
As a student at York University in the 70s, Shabbats were lonely. “Eating my Friday night dinners in my room at the halls of residence I often felt miserable and sorry for myself.
“I was sitting in my room, eating cold food, feeling a bit low, when there was a knock at the door and some of my nonJewish friends turned up. They asked me to join them as they were heading off to a music gig. I explained that as an observant Jew I couldn’t go because I didn’t travel on Shabbat or touch money so I wouldn’t be able to get in.
“‘It’s free, and we are walking there!’ they replied. So he went with them.
The following Friday night, the same thing happened.
“I had given it some thought. I told them that I couldn’t go because it wasn’t Shabbatdik. And that you are supposed to enjoy Shabbat by remembering it’s a special day rather than trying to forget. I knew that I had enjoyed the previous week because I was forgetting about Shabbat.
“I told them that we sing songs called zemirot and I hummed them a few bim-bom tunes, that they enjoyed. I explained that we also learn on Shabbat. I told them a short story from that week’s sedra Before I knew it I had a little shiur group going. Over the next few weeks I gathered a regular group of 20-30 non-Jewish friends for seuda shlishit and we would sing and learn together. We even did the bensching. I couldn’t get any of the few Jewish students at York to come along.
“This was a pivotal moment for me. I realised that this Jewish stuff is really good! There I was, down in the doldrums, jumping at the first opportunity to escape from a lonely weekend, and suddenly I had a lively group who were swaying and singing as the sun set on another Northern Shabbat. It has affected the way I spend Shabbat ever since, wherever I am in the world.”
Anthony Wagerman is the former CEO of Travelex, the foreign currency exchange experts. The company has 8,000 employees in 30 different countries and Wagerman has visited most of them, including Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE. One Shabbat he was in Malaysia on a business trip, and was expected to go to the Malaysian Grand Prix with clients.
“I had requested the hotel nearest to the race track knowing it would be over Shabbat. But whoever booked the hotel didn’t expect me to be walking there, and I estimated that I had a four to five hour walk, in humid heat, the following day.”
Around 3am on Shabbat morning, Wagerman set off on his trek on a busy road, alongside swampland. Stumbling in the dark, a snake slipped across his path, leaving him scared and vulnerable. Cars stopped and offered lifts — he had to say no.
“I was feeling quite exhausted and fed up, and again I was offered a lift. I declined, but then the driver threw me a bottle of water, which kept me going until I arrived at the track. A very friendly and clearly gifted doctor of Chinese Medicine spotted me, looking like the walking wounded, and massaged my feet which swiftly recovered. A small Shabbat miracle.”
Naomi Chayen- Grose is Professor of Biomedical Sciences at Imperial College London. She specialises in protein crystallisation for the purpose of designing new medicines. She sends proteins and vaccines up into space, where better crystals can grow, working with NASA, Russian and European scientists.
One such collaboration took her to Russia in 1991. Chayen-Grose was sent as a principal investigator and experiment representative by the European Space Station. Her work, developing HIV medication, would be sent into space on a Russian photon, non- manned rocket operated by Glavkosmos, the Russian space organisation. “I was a bit apprehensive. I was told not to worry, as the Head of Russian operations at the European Space Agency would accompany me so I would be fine. I would have to load the rocket, bring the experiment onto the apparatus and then it would go up into space. I said fine, but I have one condition —I will not load on Shabbat. They said it was no problem.” “Moscow was a depressing place, and the shelves in the shops were empty. I was also visiting refusniks during my visit and I had brought 40 kilos of luggage — medicines, sausages, cheese. I had my excuse ready though, I would say that I was pregnant with triplets and I needed a lot of food.” Then she was told that the launch would be Shabbat.
“It wasn’t just my experiments, but experiments from the whole of Europe. It was September, and Shabbat would go out at 8pm. I said I was willing to sit there all night and load the rocket and then it would go. They opened the Glavkosmos especially for me. There was one apparatus for all the experiments, not just mine. So the Russians had to come to the space agency after Shabbat too and stay up all night to load.”
The Russian scientists asked whether this was because the crystals grew better at night.
“No, I told them, I am Jewish and observant. I explained that as the launch wasn’t a matter of life and death I was not prepared to break my laws. In the end we completed our preparations by 4am, just in time, and the mission went undisturbed. I became known as Dr Kashtan after that — it’s Russian for chestnut
— hard on the outside and soft on the inside.”
Teacher Mark Garfield was in shul when someone tapped him on the shoulder and told him that there were two fire engines outside his home. “It was a very interesting Shabbat,” he recalls, “as the f lat was fire damaged and the food was beyond barbecued. Our kitchen was very small and we think the hotplate started the fire.”
All was not lost. Neighbours and friends fed the family and the guests they’d been expecting. And after all that, “Shabbat was great!” he maintains.
And sometimes Shabbat observance has its own rewards. One travelling friend in Ghana reluctantly turned down the chance to go on an expedition to see elephants, instead opting to spend the day of rest back at base. As he said his morning prayers he was surprised by a lost elephant, wandering into the enclosure. Theperfect Shabbat guest?
A snake crossed my path in the swamp land
The Russians and I loaded the rocket all night