It was the night of the year. Everybody was all dressed up -- girls in their flowing gowns in every imaginable color; guys in their slick tuxes. The four-course meal was of five-star caliber. The best band was playing the latest music. The Senior Prom had arrived!
It seemed like from the beginning of the school year, all anybody could talk about was the prom. It was standard conversation in the hallways, locker room, and cafeteria. So it didn't take long for my classmates to discover that I would not be attending the big event.
Why aren't you going? It'll be the greatest night of your life!
"Why aren't you going?" they would ask. "It'll be the greatest night of your life!" Before I could get my answer in, somebody would always answer for me.
"Don't you remember? She's religious. She doesn't go out on Friday nights."
Well, that's not the response I would have given on my own, but it got a certain point across. It's the point that most of my classmates had drilled into their heads all their lives: Judaism is a restrictive religion that doesn't let you do anything -- especially on Friday nights and Saturdays.
In our early Hebrew school days we learned that on Shabbat we couldn't play our video games or watch our favorite cartoons. As we got a little older we learned that we shouldn't join the town's soccer team because they played on Saturday mornings. Rather, we should attend synagogue and say words out of a book that we couldn't understand for two hours. This is the Shabbat that my classmates and I learned about throughout our years of Hebrew school. It was this mentality that kept us from wanting to have much to do with this religion of rules.
Somehow, during my high school years, I was able to break out of that mindset and I gave Shabbat a shot. The more I learned, the more I saw how wonderful it was. The more I experienced what a real Shabbat involved, the more I realized that it wasn't restrictive at all. Instead of the boring and dull day that I imagined, I found an inspiring and exciting holiday to look forward to every week.
I found that on Shabbat, families and friends would get together to spend quality time with each other. The distractions of video games, cartoons, soccer matches, phone calls, business and the like were removed for the day. The removal of those elements did not feel restrictive at all. It only helped to enhance the experience.
At synagogue, I saw the whole community come together to join in the holiness of the day. It was amazing to see how everybody, young and old, could join as one to say those words that I had once thought were pointless. When I took the time to learn and understand what the prayers actually meant, my synagogue experience drastically changed. The words came alive and melted the past, present and future into one.
Unfortunately, I was the only one of my Hebrew school class who tapped into this. My friends continued to stay as far away from Shabbat and Judaism as they could, due to the bitter taste they still have from earlier in life. No matter how I tried to explain it, or how many times I invited them to try it for themselves, I couldn't get my message through. Their views of Shabbat had been deeply scarred. In their minds, Shabbat wasn’t worth much -- and it was especially not something to miss the prom for!
While my friends from school were having a blast that Friday night, I was doing the same, only a little differently... and better. I too was all dressed up wearing an outfit from my wardrobe specially designated for the day. A gourmet-style feast was served on a beautifully set table. Songs that had been composed ages ago echoed through my soul.
Shabbat had arrived, and I felt like the queen.