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Ending the Boston Lockdown with NEXT Shabbat

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As part of our 25th anniversary series, we are featuring stories from young leaders who #MakeItHappen in their communities. This story comes to us from NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation, dedicated to creating opportunities for Birthright Israel alumni to continue to experience the best of their trip even after they have returned. Julia Moline, who lives in Somerville and was a Taglit-Birthright Israel participant in 2006, shares her story below.

Just over six months ago, on a Monday afternoon, some friends and I decided to walk from our offices at MIT to watch the Boston Marathon runners around mile 25. We stayed for about an hour, left, and then watched the news in horror. My friend Jessica had snuck out of work early, excited that her meetings had been cancelled, and arrived at the finish line to cheer on the runners just as the bombs exploded. Luckily, she was unharmed.  

Jessica and I had been talking about having Shabbat dinner together for a while, and after the bombings, we decided that Friday night would give us some much-needed community time. Both of us had gone on Birthright Israel trips, and as it happened, a reminder email was sent out that Tuesday about the NEXT Shabbat dinner program.

NEXT Shabbat (a program by NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation) helps Birthright Israel alumni host Shabbat meals by providing resources like a Shabbox tool kit, along with small grants for food. So, I registered for the meal and we set about planning. Because this Shabbat was going to be so special, so necessary, I decided to go all out—I even made my mom’s challah for the first time. (A side note: The challah came out, but it wasn’t as good as my mom’s.)

I’d made the challah on Thursday, knowing I wouldn’t have the time on Friday. I was waiting for the loaves to cool, idly checking Facebook and pretending to do homework, when the news that an officer was down on MIT’s campus came in. (Another side note: If there’s a shooting on your school’s campus, never, ever wait a few minutes before you call your parents, even if you think it might be a hoax.) The next 24 hours were harrowing, tense, helpless, sleepless…it’s all been said. After the initial rush of “You OK?” messages, there was nothing to do but sit around and watch the news. We couldn’t go anywhere, didn’t want to go anywhere.

Midday, I sent an email to my Shabbat guests saying, “Assuming the transportation bans are lifted by then, dinner is ON.” Three o’clock rolled around, then 4, then 5, without change. Some people couldn’t make it because of the transit bans and some just didn’t feel safe leaving. Despite all of our anticipation for this Shabbat meal together, Jessica, who lives on the other side of the river in Boston, couldn’t navigate the various travel restrictions to get to my house. Around 7 o’clock, we heard that the authorities had cornered the suspect in Watertown. Some of my guests started to arrive—I’d invited a few neighborhood friends whose plans had been cancelled—and we all sat glued to the TV, muting it only to light Shabbat candles.

The change in our collective mood was tangible. Moments earlier, we’d been a group of terrorized kids, scurrying through the night to comfort each other. Now, we were a group of excited, vibrant people gathering to celebrate the fact that our city was ours again. When we finally sat down to eat, we were all smiling. "Shalom Aleichem" had never felt so good to sing and had never sounded so beautiful. We made kiddush over scotch, because no one had been able to get to the store for a bottle of kosher wine. Each ritual step was a reminder of our community, of our history, of our tradition that has transcended difficult times for thousands of years. As the candles burned, we ate, we laughed and we were, for the first time in a week, happy.

I am so grateful that the NEXT reminder email came when it did, encouraging me to actually plan and host the Shabbat dinner that made all the difference at the end of a horrible time. There is so much comfort and joy in our community and our tradition; Shabbat had renewed meaning for me that week. And even though Jessica and I were not able to have Shabbat together that week, we’ve since shared many more. 

The Schusterman Philanthropic Network is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.