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A Feeling of Nostalgia, a Feeling of Home

A Feeling of Nostalgia, a Feeling of Home

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That smell. There’s something about the smell. It’s nostalgic even though I didn’t grow up with it. I walk through my apartment building Thursday night, and the smell has already started to waft along the air. It continues Friday morning and intensifies throughout the day. What is that smell I love . . . the smell that cries out to my soul? It’s theWhat is that smell I love? smell of Shabbat cooking, whether it’s matzah-ball soup or Moroccan fish, cholent, t’fina or kibbe hamda. It’s that smell of something special and familiar. The smell of Shabbat. The smell of home.

It’s Shabbat afternoon, and I walk with several of my children around our neighborhood. We run into a neighbor, Goldie. A lovely woman, she is on her way to a class. I’m curious, and for the first time I ask her: “Goldie, how did you become religious? Why did you start keeping Shabbat?”

Her answer was surprisingly simple.

“It was a process,” she explains, “but what happened was I went to families, many families, for Shabbat meals, and there was just something that I felt—it was a feeling of home. Like something beautiful and familiar and comfortable, even though I hadn’t experienced it before. I knew that I had nothing to lose by trying it, and everything to gain by doing it. And if not, then eventually I would find out. Here I am 30 years later with a home that celebrates Shabbat.”

That’s it? A feeling of something familiar? A feeling of home?

I’m sitting with a good friend of mine, and I tell her about my childhood. Memories of me and my mother traveling. I remember that no matter where we were or how long we went for, my mother always packed candles for Shabbat. It was one apparently simple act that my mother kept loyally.

I called to ask her about it. “Mommy, why is it that no matter what, you always lit Shabbat candles?”

Now, I didn’t grow up with the smells of Shabbat or the preparations to go with it, or the songs and the singing. Traditions we had, but I didn’t grow up with Shabbat. So this is why I asked my mother that question. Because I really didn’t know.

She answers: “Because when I light candles, it makes me remember that I’m Jewish, and I feel connected. I pray, and I give thanks. I light Shabbat candles, and I feel at home.”

And it’s so true. I light my own Shabbos candles while my husband and older son are at shul,I pray for what each one needs and my daughter and little ones surround me. I feel that familiar feeling—the feeling of home. I drink in that glow of those beautiful lights. I take my time, pouring out my heart in prayer and in thanksgiving. I light a candlestick for my husband and myself, and for each one of our children. I pray for what each one needs as my hand lingers with the match to the wick. The prayers continue as I think of all the people in my life and anyone I know who needs any kind of salvation or healing.

The smells of our home are intoxicating. It’s the smell of Shabbat. I think of an incident related in the Talmud (Shabbat 119a) about an encounter with the great sage Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hananya and the Roman Emperor. The Emperor wanted the special spice that was in a cooked Shabbat dish, but he didn’t understand why the smell of the dish would diffuse. The great sage answered him that the spice itself was only effective for the dish made to honor Shabbat. In other words, the special spice was in itself Shabbat. The fragrance itself is Shabbat. It’s the magic ingredient of connection—by keeping this Divine commandment, something so big and beyond me, and yet so familiar and within reach. A connection to my soul, my Source, my Creator.

It is written in the Torah that G‑d made the seventh day, Shabbat, holy and sanctified it. He gave the Sabbath as a gift to Israel, a sign of an everlasting covenant. On the Sabbath day, G‑d ceased to create and “rested” (See Exodus 31:16-17). The word used for “rested,” (yenafash) is related to the word (nefesh), “soul.” You can tap into this feeling of nostalgia on Shabbat even if you have never experienced it before because a part of you—your soul—has already felt it.

It’s the candles that glow every Friday night that light up the soul. Shabbat is comfort; it’s connection, on the deepest level. It’s a feeling of home.

Originally from northern California and a Stanford University graduate, Elana Mizrahi now lives in Jerusalem with her husband and children. She is a doula, massage therapist, writer, and author of Dancing Through Life, a book for Jewish women. She also teaches Jewish marriage classes for brides.
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