Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Magazine Antidote to Mad World Syndrome

Ah, Shabbos.

Also known as Shabbat or Sabbath, the day of rest is truly a mekhiah. (All new visitors to this blog are instructed to refer to the posting from February 23rd if unfamiliar with the meaning of mekhiah.)

The way I was raised, which was on the cusp between Conservative and Orthodox Judaism (known for a while as Conservadox), Shabbat ushered in a magical, work-free realm of delectable food, special meals, Saturday morning shul (synagogue) services followed by a thrilling kiddush -- a collation consisting of bowtie cookies, frosted brownies with walnuts, dense pastries shaped like maple leaves, topped with chocolate, herring with little cellophane-adorned toothpicks, gefilte fish and horseradish, tuna salad, egg salad and all the Dr. Brown's soda you could ever hope to drink -- Shabbos clothes and Shabbos shoes, which would be shed for playclothes and sneakers upon returning from shul, playdates with friends but best of all, hours upon hours of uninterrupted reading accompanied by noshing (snacking for the Yiddish-challenged).

There was no television, no phone conversations, no radio, no running of dishwashers or washing machines, no school work, no writing, no traveling by vehicle, no turning on or off of lights, no purchasing or exchanging of money...a real respite from the regular world of commerce and responsibility.

These days, my Shabbatot (plural of Shabbat, the Hebrew version of Sabbath) are composed of pretty much the same elements and my love and appreciation for the 25-hour zone grows exponentially with every year of my adult life. As a kid, I adored Shabbat, never finding it boring or restrictive, experiencing, in fact, sheer freedom in being able to read for hours lying down on my bed, my hand darting in and out of a bag of barbeque potato chips. As an adult, I find myself reaching for Shabbat in the middle of my work week, often praying for its speedy arrival, clinging to it when it arrives, mourning its departure at sundown on Saturday evening.

Shabbat is a time when all my responsibilities to others (except my immediate family) cease and I take refuge in this knowledge, curling up inside it. Hearkening to my childhood habit, I can usually be found on most Shabbat afternoons, or early in the morning before leaving for shul, curled up in much the same manner as I had when I was a child, reading for hours.

Truth to be told, the Shabbat reading I do these days is a bit less literary than that of my childhood when I devoured novels in one sitting. Though I am currently reading the Henry James collection, The Figure in the Carpet and Other Stories (Penguin Classics/1986) this week's Shabbos reading consisted of The New Yorker and the Weekend sections of the New York Times last night (respectable); The New York Times' Womens Fashion Spring 2006 supplement (a little less respectable) this morning; the rest of the paper minus the sports, real estate and business sections this afternoon (back to respectable); and Us Weekly ( and InStyle ( -- completely egregious), which I read avidly in the last hour of Shabbos while sweating it out on the non-electrical Sharper Image stepper we retrieved from the garbage room last month.

Yes, I felt intellectually enriched by my intercourse with The New Yorker (hurrahs to David Remnick for his fine, if frightening Letter from the West Bank; Roz Chast for her hilarious Limited Edition Cards, and Jane Kramer for her Talk of the Town on the meshuganeh response of radical Muslims to the Danish cartoons of Mohammed...visit And yes, Sam Apple's essay, No Laughing Matter, in The Funny Pages section of the Magazine made me guffaw and Leslie Camhi's highly readable if rambling essay in the Times's Women's fashion supplement completely captivated my attention (visit

(Starting off as an essay on the late, great melodramatic actress Sarah Bernhardt, the piece segued into a discussion of her Jewishness and then opened up into a piece of Jewish beauty, Jews and beauty, Jewish designers, Eastern European supermodels with possible Jewish ancestry and the actress Rachel Weisz -- pronounced vice, Camhi helpfully instructs us -- who is proudly Jewish.)

Yes, I admit that I added a couple of books to my Must Read list after visiting with the Book Review supplement, read the op-ed page contributors (Maureen! How can you go on book tour at a time like this???!!! Now what am I going to discuss with my father after Shabbos???) and checked in with news from around the world.

But the biggest bliss of the day came from my perusal of InStyle and US Weekly, when my brain slipped into low gear, my jaw went slack and I was all about haircuts and cute little swingy skirts and which shoes to wear with what length pants and why Tom and Katie are NOT breaking up and how Angelina and Brad are so normal, not like a celebrity couple, and Demi Moore's fashion retrospective and Nick Lachey's reasons for suing Jessica for support and new skin products and a couple of dresses I'd like to try to track down at Loehmann's and...

As my feet trod upon the stepper and my pores pushed through perspiration, I looked at pictures and read captions, my entire body rejuvenating itself, my actual cells regenerating. Without the immediacy of television news or the internet, without the constant ringing of my cellphone and the urge to dash out the door to something or other, I was cloistered for a handful of hours in a Do Not Disturb zone, enabled by the religious laws governing Shabbat observance and my particular reading material.

When I emerged, I felt ready to return to my regularly-scheduled life. Fifteen minutes later, I marked the end of Shabbat (after the ceremony of Havdalah ... by turning on my computer and diving headlong into the celebration of Mardi Gras in post-Katrina New Orleans, the mistrial of the woman who cut off her baby's arms and let the child bleed to death, the ongoing mayhem in Iraq, the suspected ricin found in the Dallas dormroom, the death of Don Knotts, South Dakota's imminent move to ban abortion and other dispatches from our mad, mad world.

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