“It may be said without exaggeration that more than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, it is the Sabbath that has kept the Jews.”
So wrote Asher Zvi Ginsberg in his celebrated 1898 essay, “Shabbes and Zionism.” This quip became the writer’s most famous quote, but what does it mean? Kept the Jews—what?
Ginsberg, also known by his Hebrew nom de plume Ahad Ha’am, was an early Zionist thinker and ideological opponent of Theodore Herzl. Herzl had advocated for a Jewish state that was an entirely secular entity, while Ginsberg wanted a country that was infused with Jewish culture and spirit, including the spirit of Shabbat. While neither man was religiously observant, Ginsberg understood that religious values have value beyond religion. While Shabbat is of course a religious dictate, Ginsberg argued that its importance to the Jewish people goes beyond the bounds of law. Candle lighting, Friday night dinner, challah, wine, Kiddush, Havdallah—these Shabbat fixtures are central to the ethos of the Jewish people. Children from the youngest age associate these Shabbat symbols with being Jewish. What has Shabbat “kept” the Jews? It has kept us unique.
There are so many parts of Akiva that make us unique as a school: Our Whole Child approach to learning, our blend of high-tech with traditional tactile teaching, our inclusive religious philosophy. Included in this list is the Akiva Shabbaton, our Friday night service and dinner that will be taking place tomorrow. The Akiva Shabbaton is an opportunity for all generations to come together and experience our school’s values as a community. Just like Shabbat is sui generis for the Jews, the Shabbaton is unique to Akiva.
Shabbat sets our people apart because it establishes a distinctive Jewish rhythm. Most of the world goes out Friday night, we stay in; others dress down on Friday, we dress up. Just as every family take pride in its own traditions, the greater Jewish family cherishes Shabbat, our special way of welcoming the weekend.
The Shabbaton has another symbolic value for Akiva. Because it takes place with parents after regular school hours, the Shabbaton demonstrates the special Akiva bond between school and family. Akiva values are expressed in partnership with the home; as we welcome parents to become part of the culture of the school, we hope that our school’s Jewish culture will find its way into your homes and your hearts. As Shabbat keeps the Jews special, the Shabbaton keeps Akiva special.
We look forward to seeing you tomorrow! Even if you are not able to join us for dinner, please make sure to join us with your children for services at 5:30 pm at the Shaar to listen to your children perform the unique songs and rituals of welcoming Shabbat.