Ask 7-year-old Chaya Zippel what she likes best about the Sabbath and she'll say the party. "The Shabbat party."
Chaya's father, Benny, is an Orthodox rabbi. The family lives around the corner from the Chabad Lubavitch of Utah synagogue in Sugar House.
Every week, from Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown, the Zippel parents and their six children observe the Sabbath in a manner prescribed by Jewish scripture.
As the Sabbath begins, the family will gather around the table. Mother and daughters will light the Shabbat candles, asking God to bring serenity in the coming week. For the next 24 hours no one will travel, touch money, use the phone, write, or do other tasks such as starting a fire. Turning on a light or an oven is considered starting a fire, thus the Zippels put guards over their light switches and pre-set their oven to go on and off by itself.
"The purpose is to re-enact the seventh day," explains Rabbi Zippel. "You shall rest just as God rested on the seventh day of creation."
And if you drop by the Zippel home on a Friday afternoon, you will find all is ready.
The children play outside. Their mother, Sharonne, laughs with them as they shoot baskets. Inside, dinner is in the oven, the table is set and the challah (bread) has been baked.
Sharonne leaves nothing to the last minute, she says, "because my mother always taught me that emergencies, if they are going to happen, are going to happen on Friday afternoon."
On that recent Friday afternoon, Chaya could hardly wait to put on her prettiest dress. Her mother tried to hold her off until an hour or so before synagogue. Sharonne herself would be staying home with baby Sarah, she said. To push a stroller or carry a baby outside the home would be considered work.
Sharonne looks forward to Friday evenings as a time to catch up on her prayers. She savors the quiet, before everyone returns from the synagogue. On Shabbat, there are always guests for dinner.
As for the "Shabbat party" that little Chaya loves so much, this is something extra that her mother has added to the traditions. In a house where parents limit the sweets, the Zippel children get kosher candy on Friday night and Frosted Flakes on Saturday morning. The notion of a party is in keeping with the Hasidic philosophy, where, says Rabbi Zippel, "the focus is almost never on stringency but on joy."
Unfortunately the baby will be asleep by the time everyone else gets home from synagogue. She won't be at the table for the kiddish, sanctification of the wine. But Sharonne, wanting Sarah to share in the Shabbat, will give her some grape juice before she goes to bed. Sarah is not too young to start to learn that this is a special night.
Perhaps there are a lot of Utahns who agree with the philosophy of Anita Diamant. Writing in a book called "How To Be a Jewish Parent," Diamant says the Sabbath should be a day for saying "yes." Diamant writes, "Much of the time, parents are required to be naysayers. . . . Shabbat is a day to try to let go of reflexive and automatic 'no's.
"Paradoxically," Diamant continues, "saying 'yes' to a day of rest is not easy. Shabbat really is a kind of discipline."
It is a discipline that, for people of various faiths, brings happiness.
Day of rest
"I was happy when I came into the house of the Lord," says the Rev. Gary Trickey, quoting from Psalms. Trickey is the pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Ogden. To explain how Lutherans view the Sabbath, Trickey refers to the catechisms of Martin Luther, written in the 15th century.
Luther's view of the Third Commandment emphasizes not so much adayas a worshipful way of life, he says. As for Trickey, he begins every day with a half-hour of prayer.
This is not to say that Sunday is not important to Lutherans. "We worship on Sunday because it is the day of resurrection," Trickle says. And on the rare occasions when he has to miss a Sunday worship, he says, "My week is a shambles."
Still, members of his congregation would not feel disrespectful if they had to shop on a Sunday, or if they wanted to go to the movies.
Lutherans see the Sabbath as a day to be enjoyed, he says. Last Sunday, after church, Trickey himself went to a Raptors game.
On a sunny Sunday morning you can drive through the Vogelsbergs' neighborhood in American Fork and not see a soul, for block after quiet block. Inside the Vogelsbergs' house, however, hymns are playing and seven children and one mom are getting ready for church.
The oldest three Vogelsberg children are away, serving LDS missions. The father, Rob, who is a counselor to the bishop, is already at church. So it's just Jan Vogelsberg and two daughters who need their hair braided and one son who needs a pep talk about apologies and a couple of other kids who are helping to paste name tags that Jan, who is the children's chorister, will need later in the day.
"I could never do my calling without my kids," she says happily.
Jan has already fed the littlest children. The others aren't eating. This is fast Sunday, a monthly ritual in which faithful families pray and sacrifice and donate the money they would have spent on food. Says Jan, "We try to forget about the physical and think about feeling the spirit."
When it's time to leave, 10-year-old Devin rings a cowbell and everyone jumps in the family van. One of the family's favorite Sabbath traditions is for whoever is driving to church to hit the gutters just right, in order to give the riders a big bounce. The children have barely stopped squealing when the van reaches the church.
Fast Sunday is also testament day and, in the Vogelsbergs' ward, at least a dozen adults and children come forward to speak to the congregation, thanking God for being with them in their trials and pleasures. Rob Vogelsberg is conducting the service, and he speaks first. He reminds the congregation of people in their midst who are suffering. He reminds them also of those in war-torn countries.
As the sacrament meeting continues, the littlest Vogelsbergs slip onto the floor, turn and place their coloring books on the pew and silently color.
On the way from their ward back home again, the van passes an LDS temple. She loves living so close to a temple, Jan says. Sometimes the family walks on the temple grounds on a Sunday afternoon.
As you listen to her, you realize it is all of a piece — the way she feels about the temple, the way she raises her children, the way the family fasts every month and prays together every day. And Jan feels uncomfortable talking to a reporter about all of this. She doesn't hold herself up as a model of righteous living, she says. And she wants you to know that faithful Latter-day Saints may observe the Sabbath in a variety of ways.
Meanwhile, if you ask them, the children will tell you what they are praying for today. One child is praying for a classmate with cancer. Another is praying for a friend who has struggles with faith. Devin is praying for rain.
Sundays are wonderfully relaxing, says Heather, who is 17. "You don't worry about friends, work, outside stuff. You are just with your family."
After church, back at home, as Jan makes a salad and puts some rolls in to bake, her older children gather at the kitchen table to write letters to their missionary sister and brothers. They won't have dinner until Rob comes in. They will break the fast together.
The little kids are in the next room watching a video. On Sundays they watch either religious videos or home movies, Jan says. The children grow up knowing what the family does and doesn't do on Sundays. It has never been a big issue that they don't do homework or watch television, even when the NBA Finals are on, even though they love the Jazz.
But then, as she is explaining, Jan remembers that once a year, on Super Bowl Sunday, the Vogelsbergs do watch TV. They watch a football game, even though the majority of the family members don't care a fig about football. Somehow, it has become a tradition.
"We are sinners!" Jan says, laughing and sounding surprised. Then she looks out the window and notices that it is raining and calls out, merrily, to Devin that it looks like his prayer is being answered.