This year, controversy raged around the Women’s March. Questions of antisemitism and movement building were central to difficult conversations about the march’s leadership, leading many people in Jewish communities to debate whether or not to march with the organization. I take these questions very seriously, and deeply value the important work being done by Jews involved with leftist movements who continue to educate progressive leaders about antisemitism. I believe that we can only build stronger movements when we do not abdicate the opportunity to fight for justice in strong coalitions. However, I didn’t march last Saturday for a different reason: I was observing Shabbat.
I observe the Jewish Sabbath from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday every week. On Shabbat, I do not use my phone or computer, turn on light, travel in vehicles or write. I refrain from all creative labor, from actions that change the world from how it was on Friday afternoon before Shabbat began. Instead, I read, pray and eat with friends, savoring time with my community. Shabbat is a time when I live in the world as it is, rather than shaping it to how I want it to be.
In Jewish tradition, Shabbat is a day to both commemorate God’s creation of the world and to live as if we are in a future redeemed world; it is referred to as “me’en olam haba,” a taste of the World to Come. On Shabbat, we imagine that we are living in the world as it could be, a world without struggle and violence. Though there are ways to march and protest on Shabbat without violating technical prohibitions, I — and many other observant Jews — willingly choose to pause on Shabbat, to spend the day imagining what the world could look like rather than fighting for redemption.
In a recent Buzzfeed article, Anne Helen Petersen describes the experience of millennial burnout: “Why can’t I get this mundane stuff done? Because I’m burned out. Why am I burned out? Because I’ve internalized the idea that I should be working all the time.” She then argues that to counteract our pervasive feelings of overwhelmedness, “individual action isn’t enough. Personal choices alone won’t keep the planet from dying, or get Facebook to quit violating our privacy. To do that, you need paradigm-shifting change. …We are beginning to understand what ails us, and it’s not something an oxygen facial or a treadmill desk can fix.” Petersen correctly diagnoses our feeling: that we are on a never-ending treadmill of work that we cannot get off of. And contrary to popular belief, the solution is not individualistic self-care. Rather, it is a focus on the oppressive systems that create this reality.
The responsibility of confronting oppressive systems is, in itself, massive and never-ending. There are times when I feel like I cannot turn a corner without encountering misogyny or antisemitism, not only that which is upsetting but that which is deadly. The weight and magnitude of the work that needs doing is overwhelming to the point of incapacitating. Everything feels desperate and urgent, all the time and every day. What we need is moments of pause, moments to imagine what a world made whole would look like.
Taking time to be in community, to eat long slow meals and to laugh with friends, is powerful when those very communities are under threat. This nourishment is key in sustaining justice work of all sorts, especially when it is on behalf of our communities. It provides us with energy and vision to continue doing hard work. But taking time to pause and imagine what the world we’re fighting for looks like is not merely fuel. The pause itself is a refusal to be worn down, a statement of our own sanctity and value — in my Jewish idiom, our created-ness. We do not need to be fighting all the time. We deserve to not be working for our own dignity at every moment.
Avigayil Halpern is a senior in Silliman College. Her column runs monthly. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .