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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, of absolute 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. Nancy 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. I agreed.
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 in case.

Nancy sat at the end of the table, happily savoring a bowl of the now-lukewarm stew. She soon struck up a conversation with people 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 meaning of things.

Ethan Isenberg,
a neighbor

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Acknowledgments Introduction Testimonies Photo Gallery 1 Reflections from Nancy's Mother