Shabbat Is an Underrated Way to Destress

Wine, weed, and unplugging—your ancient Jewish guide to modern-day stress relief.

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Dec 8 2017, 2:26pm

Image: Anna DeFlorian

On Edge is a series about stress in 2017.


Growing up raised by Jewish hippies, I was exposed to a lot of "be here now" rhetoric. My dad, who traveled to India in the 70s, spent time with Neem Karoli Baba, the same guru who inspired Ram Dass to write his bestseller Be Here Now. We had multiple copies of that trippy, purple book floating around the house. Yoga, meditation, and chanting were as much a part of my upbringing as Jewish basics like Hanukkah, or Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath.

But even with the whole hippie "HinJew" shtick, it took a while for me to internalize the concept of "be here now." Only after years of anxiety, restlessness, discarded law school applications, cross-country running, a freelance writing career I literally can't clock out of, and the welcome experience of letting my phone die on a handful of summer camping trips, have I come to seek out that presence of mind my neurotic Jewish parents kept yapping about, trying to figure out themselves. In a tent in the forest for a weekend, acknowledging the Sabbath with a feast of Jew food, and totally fine without texting, 'gramming, or emailing, I came to appreciate Shabbat not only as an ancient Jewish tradition, but as a contemporary, therapeutic practice of being present and unplugging.

And yet, for a long time, Shabbat—the ultimate "be here now"—was little more than lighting candles at sundown, eating a nice dinner on Friday nights, and my dad's excuse to not spend money on Saturdays. As cultural, semi-observant Jews, our Shabbat was a stark contrast to what our Orthodox neighbors observed. We'd see big families every Saturday, all dressed up, walking to synagogue. They couldn't drive, watch TV, do work, or any other number of "prohibitions."

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