Sabbath in the City

Sabbath in the City

Jill Lamar makes space for rest.

On Friday nights in New York, the streets and subways bustle with sharply-dressed men and women clambering home, bringing their laptops with them, unable to escape the demands of their jobs.

Many will toil late into the night, completing deals over the phone, and then filling their calendar to the brim with social events.

But for Jill Lamar, Friday nights are the beginning of something special. She ties on an apron and cooks in her blue French-styled kitchen, preparing dishes egg and broccoli frittata, lima bean salad, and garlic bread. She set out wine and opened the door, welcoming friends and coworkers inside to embrace rest by observing Sabbath. Once everyone has arrived, she lit the candles.

“It’s something that feels very anti-New York,” said Balie Keown, one of Jill’s regular guests. “When you live in New York you feel like you’re the king of your own little universe.”

Guests gather in the seating room, choosing from plates of cheese, stuffed olives, and roasted red peppers. Candlelight glows as her cat “Petit Singe” scales the back of her sofa.

Rest for Lamar was hard to come by.

After graduating college, she worked on Wall Street as an assistant sales manager for Merrill Lynch, but after the stock market crash of 1987, she left Wall Street to pursue her dreams of a job in publishing. She loved it, but had to work three jobs to make ends meet.

A self-proclaimed ‘culture vulture,’ Lamar recalled how she loved attending shows, exhibits, and galas. But, instead of rejuvenating her, the events only left her with a long list of things to do. The idea of the Jewish tradition of Sabbath had always interested her. After leaving Wall Street, she read Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s Jewish Literacy. An in-depth study of Hebrews piqued her interest even further.

“I looked at Sabbath practice and started thinking, what is appropriate for Christians?” Lamar recalled. “I didn’t want to simply mirror Jewish practices. But I wanted to know, what is the spirit of the law?”

The commandment urges Jews to recognize the Sabbath day as a day to refrain from work and to rest. So eight years ago, Lamar decided to start practicing Sabbath, refraining from work and resting every weekend.

“People under 40 tend to see Sabbath as a threat to intercept their plans. But God is the one who gives us the abilities and talents. If you are trampling on the fourth commandment, I don’t think you are getting it.

“Not only has she observed Sabbath consistently since then, but every Friday night she’s hosted Shabbat dinner in her home for neighbors, friends, and co-workers. The guests come from different faiths and creeds. Together, they read a Shabbat text that she put together from Scripture and both Jewish and evangelical authors. The guests also practice several minutes of of silent meditation after dinner, sharing prayers, poetry, and art that inspire gratitude.

Karen Sindayen, another weekly guest, describes the dinners as, “almost like a sanctuary out of the city.” Sindayen moved to New York from the San Francisco Bay Area two years ago, and said that the pace of the city can be draining.

“Taking that time to stop is so important and so radical,” she said. “I don’t realize how tired I am until I stop to take a breath. It’s also helped me redefine my priorities: My 9-to-5 job doesn’t define me and shouldn’t define me…we are meant for something greater.”

Lamar observes that New York City professionals are trying to prove themselves and assume that working harder means working longer. “[My dinners] are a reset button for people. In some cases they’ve encouraged people to take risks with their careers, because they know God will provide.”

Lamar herself is currently unemployed for the first time in 14 years. Last year, she was laid off from her position as editor-in-chief at Henry Holt and Co., one of the oldest and most prestigious publishing companies in America.”[Being unemployed] has been really strangely satisfying and enjoyable,” Lamar said. She now spends her time volunteering to babysit for busy mothers, serving at the Bowery Mission and traveling to see friends and family.

“There is such a deep and abiding trust in God’s ability to provide for me that has been built from celebrating His provision week after week after week, and exploring Sabbath.”

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