I just returned from a week in Israel staffing Ta'am Yisrael, the Community Foundation for Jewish Education (CFJE)'s trip to Israel for 8th graders. I had an amazing time exploring Israel with 180 Jewish teens from around the Chicago area. Now all the participants are back in school and the staff are back at work and I've been thinking a lot about how we separate different experiences. How does one return from a week long, intense, immersive, potentially life changing Jewish experience, and jump back into a normal routine?
My thoughts wandered to the Jewish tradition of Havdalah (the ceremony for ending shabbat) that our group participated in on Saturday night in Israel. Each week, at the end of Shabbat, we thank God and say blessing over wine, spices, and the flame of the havdalah candle. Each of these has significance in the separation between Shabbat and the rest of the week.
One havdalah custom is to dip your fingers into the wine after the ceremony is over and to put some behind your ears and in your pockets. This symbolic action was created to encourage people smell the sweetness of the wine and carry its sweetness in their pockets all week. By carrying the sweetness of Shabbat with us at all times and it sustains us until the next week.
Before leaving Israel, my group created our own sort of Havdalah. We took a moment to recognize and reflect on the differences that would separate our time in Israel from our normal lives at home. We spoke about the experiences we had together, the affect it had on our lives, and on how to bring those experiences home with us.
Havdalah, like many Jewish customs, was created for a specific purpose but the themes can be used to enhance all our experiences, even those outside of Shabbat. By taking the time to differentiate between different experiences and to reflect on the movement from one experience to another, we can really process what we've learned and achieved, and give each new experience infinitely more meaning in our lives.