Shabbat in the park

Since I missed yesterday’s Green Soul Guide posting and am a bit slammed today, I am borrowing content from another blog of mine, thoughts from the spiral. This entry — from last summer, about celebrating Shabbat in Portland’s Laurelhurst Park with Havurah Shalom — is particularly appropriate, now that the weather is turning more favorable and we’ll all likely be spending more time outdoors. It was this “shabbat in the park” experience, and blogging about it, that prompted me to start the Green Soul Guide to begin with.

shabbat in the park
23 June 2008

When it comes to shabbat services, I’m more of a Friday evening gal. I enjoy the smaller gathering, the lighting of the candles and the more meditative feel of winding down the week and welcoming sacred time and space. It’s a peaceful and relaxing way to let go of whatever has been weighing on me and to make room for reflection and some degree of serenity. It also sets the stage for spending at least part of the weekend enjoying the outdoors — which is my true temple.

I was all set to head to the shul this past Friday evening, when I discovered that the Saturday morning service was to be celebrated in a local park. Perfect timing for the summer solstice. I made a quick call to Mom — who was going to be in town anyway — and brought her along to her first Jewish service ever.

We couldn’t have asked for a better day. There was a brief sprinkle of rain in the early morning, but the clouds quickly gave way to warm sunshine. A group of picnic tables under some trees had been reserved for us, and folks trickled in — on foot, on bikes, with strollers — as we set up camping chairs and picnic blankets.

Plenty of passerby stopped to watch us as we started singing — I guess a bunch of Jews in the park isn’t something you see every day — and I slipped off my shoes and pressed my bare feet into the grass. Children laughed and played throughout the service — one of the things I love about going to temple is that the kids aren’t commanded to sit still and be quiet, as we were always instructed in chapel growing up. It’s very family-friendly, and gathering in the park only emphasized that.

It was so freeing to be outside in spiritual community — and in the company of flowers and trees — to feel the sun on my skin and breathe the clean air, rather than being inside while following the same order of service. I prefer natural surroundings to man-made ones. The earth beneath my feet and the open sky overhead create the most sacred space I know of.

We weren’t the only people celebrating in the park that morning. Two different groups of Neo-Pagans set up their own circles within sight of our gathering to mark the midsummer holiday of Litha. The rabbi commented, “Well, we’re all pagans, aren’t we?”

Talking about the service later, Mom shared how much she had enjoyed the event and the people. I’m so glad her first visit with my shul was a positive one, and am grateful for those few hours spent with my spiritual community in natural surroundings. I held this experience up to Mom as a more tangible example of the “roots and wings” I’ve been yearning for.

I’m not sure I’ll join them for next month’s “Shabbat in the Pool”…. Perhaps I’ll instead head over solo to the grove of trees not far from my home, and mark my own observance there.

It’s the beginning of another work week, and I’m already looking forward to Friday evening — when I can sit outside, light candles and take time to enjoy and appreciate the ready-made sanctuary just outside my door.

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One Response to “Shabbat in the park”

  1. Sophie Golden Says:

    I found out about your blog on aish.com. I’ve also read your interview with Shoah survivor.
    Wish you all the best, dear Jennifer. May Hashem help you!


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