Monday, February 09, 2009

Shabbat Goy for Hire

I had heard of this phenomenon, the "Shabbat Goy." The topic would come up at parties, after a coupla pints, and be discussed in hushed tones akin to urban legends. Everyone in Jerusalem knows what I mean when I say Shabbat Goy, but my friend back in Toronto who is Jewish, Tam, had never heard of it before. So, I'll fill y'all in: a Shabbat Goy is a non-Jew who, it is said, is kept on hand by Shomer Shabbat Jews in case they need something that technically they're not supposed to on Shabbat. For those of us who are new to all of this, on Shabbat the most important things to do are eat and pray; some of the forbidden activities for shomer (observant, keepers of) Shabbat are turning lights on or off, riding/driving vehicles, or riding in elevators is ok but pushing the buttons is not. Now, this is where the Shabbat Goy comes in handy, because this person can do all of these things for the shomer Shabbat Jew, but there is a special trick for the Jew in all of this, in that he/she cannot ask directly for what he/she wants.

So, let's say it's getting dark. A Jew cannot say, "Please, Shabbat Goy, turn on the light." Instead, the Jew might say, "I sure do wish it was brighter in here," in which case the Shabbat Goy could jump up and turn on a lamp. It's that easy.

Why am I telling you this? Well, it's been a funny (haha) topic of conversation around our apartment. Lily, one of my roomies, is Orthodox and goes home every weekend for Shabbat. We miss her when she's gone - she's a wonderful spark of liveliness and loveliness. I have offered to be her Shabbat Goy in the hopes that one of these weekends she'll stick around and hang with us even though we never do much more than study. But, the other reason I'm telling you this is that recently I had not just one but two opportunities to be an unwitting Shabbat Goy:

The first time was getting onto the elevator on Saturday/Shabbat two weeks ago. Myself and two young ladies entered the elevator. I pressed "3" and the other woman pressed "7." The third woman said, "Shmoneh, bvakashah." (Eight, please.) The two of us just stood there. She repeated herself: "Shmoneh, bvakashah." The other woman just glared at her, but I leaned forward and pressed "8." My first Shabbat Goy mitzvah/good deed!

The second time was in the stairwell this Saturday past. The lights in the stairwells are on timers: you flip the switch when you enter and the light stays on for about five minutes then turns off again until the next person uses the stairwell. Very energy efficient. So, I go into the stairwell on my way down to the laundry room and flip the switch. I hear two female voices shout down to me from where they had been struggling in the dark a few floors up: "Toda! Shabbat SHALOM!" (Thank you! Happy Sabbath!) My second Shabbat Goy mitzvah!

I didn't get up those Saturday mornings thinking, oooh, today's my big day as a Shabbat Goy. But, I do think about making myself a special super-hero type suit and speaking in a deeper voice: "that's right, ma'am, I am your Shabbat Goy today." Or, I think about turning it into a money making business: Shabbat Goy for Hire. Or, I think that this character might be an excellent addition to "Jerusalem, the Musical."

And, the final reason I'm telling you this is because in the little video I'm hoping uploads ok (see the sidebar, I'm calling it "Around the Kfar"), I begin to tell you these stories then I cut myself off in obvious excitement at showing you our toaster and kettle. I'm nothing without a script.


Anonymous said...

Hello Shabbat Goy - enjoyed your story - very interesting too - haven't seen the video yet. Love you lots, Mom

Anonymous said...

Haha Girl you are great!
To you as good person adapting to the jewish habits in Israel I would suggest making it into a business and charge them after Shabbat !!! :P