My Shabbos With Nancy
One Friday in March, I was preparing
a Shabbos meal, when I ran across Nancy in the hall. She had
a look on her face,
delight, as if I had said or done something to please her,
though I knew not what.
“Is that cholent you’re
making?” Nancy asked me. “It
sure smells good! I haven’t had any of that in a long time!”
I confirmed that I was in the process
of cooking cholent for the following day, and I invited her to
join me and my guests.
told me that she already had plans for lunch, but would be sure
to stop by for dessert.
Just make sure you leave me some cholent!” Nancy urged me.
The next afternoon, I sat at my table, enjoying the company of
my friends, when there was a knock at the door. I was somewhat
surprised to see Nancy enter, having not taken her request very
seriously. Still, I had made sure to save some cholent, just
Nancy sat at the end of the table,
happily savoring a bowl of the now-lukewarm stew. She soon struck
up a conversation with
sitting around her, and I was impressed by how quickly she became
comfortable with people she didn’t know. She talked with
excitement about her upcoming biking trip to Spain, and how she
was looking forward to meeting her family in Israel.
When someone noted that the following
Shabbos would be the holiday of Purim, Nancy suddenly asked, “Does
anyone know when Ta’anis
Esther will be?” I must admit, at the time, I was a bit taken
aback by her question. I’d only known Nancy from the occasional
meeting in the hall. I had had several conversations with her,
about a variety of things, but we never really talked about religion.
I didn’t realize that she kept Shabbos, let alone knew about
the minor holidays! Furthermore, the question was particularly
relevant this year, since Purim fell on a Friday, and ended up
spanning three days in Jerusalem, instead of the usual two. As
a result, some of the usual observances would be altered. Since
Nancy would be with her family in Israel during the holiday, she
wanted to know whether the adjacent fast day would also be affected.
This knowledge of such details of Halachah threw me for a spin.
Of everything that happened that day,
however, there’s one
thing that still sticks in my mind as clearly as if it happened
today. Several of my guests started singing Shabbos Zemiros. I
watched Nancy stare at the middle of the table, as her lips curled
into a smile.
Can I get you anything?” I asked her.
I’m fine,” she answered me. “I just want to sit
here and enjoy this for a while.”
With that simple comment, Nancy helped
me to appreciate the beauty of Shabbos. For me, the
Shabbos cholent was simply a tasty dish
and the Zemiros a way to pass the time, just as much of Judaism
often became rote through repetition. In Nancy’s eyes,
however, they were a means of channeling the serenity of Shabbos and of
experiencing its aura. Nancy taught me to sometimes take a step
back, close my eyes, and think about the deeper meaning of things.
After several minutes had gone by,
and several songs had been sung, Nancy turned to me with her
unceasing smile, and remarked “I’ve
got to do this more often.”
I resolved to have Nancy back at my
Shabbos table again. As months wore on, she remained in the back
of my mind, among
the other guests
that I needed to invite. Then September 11th came, and Nancy
was gone. Gone, too, was my chance to get to know her and
what a special
person she really was.
In the short time that I knew Nancy,
I learned the importance of seeing through to the deeper core
of people and the inner