At a Thanksgiving gathering my uncle once asked my favorite day of the week. Without thinking, fifth-grade me excitedly blurted out “Thursday!” He was surely dazed by my response, expecting the average elementary school student, or any student for that matter, to say Friday for its end-of-the-week esteem and acclaim for welcoming the weekend.
After processing his confusion, he continued “And why is that?” To support my answer, I blithely retorted, “Well, because it’s the day before Shabbat.” I went on to explain to him all of the excitement that was a Friday Shabbat at the Milwaukee Jewish Day School, but made sure to note that a special Shabbat was contingent on the hard work put in the day before.
As a kindergartener every Thursday morning, when walking to chofesh (recess), I remember peeking inside the Peck gym with my classmates. There we would see faculty and teachers transforming the athletic field house into a Shabbat sing concert hall, which at the time I thought looked more like a rock stadium.
The noise of the hundreds of fold-out chairs and microphone tests echoed the growing anticipation and thrill for the coming day throughout the building. At lunch I would peek inside the kitchen of the chadar ochel to see parents organizing snack buckets with grape juice and challah as a kabbalat Shabbat treat. After school, I would see my peers grouping together in every open crevice of the tight hallways to discuss Friday after-school plans.
Although every week it was the same exact routine, everyone assured one another to wait outside on the blacktop to collectively flock to the Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center and flood the basketball courts and vending machines. The hardest decision I faced on Thursday evenings was selecting my outfits for the next day, not that I was deciding between a nice dress or a cute shirt, but instead between Nike shorts or Adidas sweatpants. And as I went to bed every Thursday night, I did so with a smile knowing that the next day would be a celebration of the week’s end.
Now a college sophomore, I was asked a few months ago for my favorite day of the week. My answer had not changed, but the reasons that explain it have. On Thursdays at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I now receive myriad Facebook notifications reminding me of the delicious Shabbat dinners offered across campus. Before the day ends, my friends and I gather in the west corridor of Memorial Library to discuss when and where we will be meeting to walk to our Shabbat festivities. Before bed, I pick out my outfit which now, to my dismay, includes nice jeans, boots and a sweater. Most comforting about this process, however, is my certainty that the 27 MJDS alumni I graduated with in the class of 2011 are doing the same in the scattered communities they now consider home.
Although my Thursday routine has slightly altered, my love for the day that creates so much excitement for the next has remained a constant part of my Jewish identity. My love for Shabbat, and all things Jewish, is because I grew up in a school with faculty, teachers and parents that believe in the preservation of Jewish practice and peoplehood. This sentiment is one that inspires current students and alumni to do the same in any community, at any stage of life.
There is not one memory on one Thursday that definitely shaped my love for Shabbat and overall love for being Jewish. But rather, it is the feeling I have gotten every Thursday for the past 15 years that has sparked within me a pride for my people and an even greater appreciation for the Milwaukee Jewish Day School.
Hilary Miller, 20, is in her sophomore year at University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is from Bayside.