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Jewish learning Finding Your Sacred Space at Home

By Linda Elovitz Marshall

When I was a child growing up in Newton, my grandmother (who lived in Brookline at the time) and I visited an old-fashioned bookstore. It was probably Lauriat’s in Chestnut Hill, or perhaps it was one in downtown Boston. Afterwards, we had ice cream at an old-fashioned ice-cream parlor with wrought-iron chairs. We went once, twice, maybe a half-dozen times. I don’t know how often we actually went, but it made an impression. I adored my grandmother — and associated her with books. I loved books and loved that our family lived in Boston — a hub of publishing and of the book business. I also loved Make Way for Ducklings.

When we moved from Newton Highlands to Newton Center — near what is now the Memorial Spaulding School — and I got old enough, I would ride my bike to the Oak Hill Library. I fell in love with that little library and promised myself to read every book on the children’s shelf! I also loved the musty old library tucked away in a tiny, upstairs garret at Temple Emanuel. Nobody else ever seemed to visit that treasure trove. It was mine, all mine! That was where I “discovered” the wise men of Chelm! Those libraries were my special places — sacred spaces — places filled with words. Then I would go home, delve into a book, enter my internal space, and find peace.

When, as an adult, I became a writer, I wanted to share these sacred places and experiences with others — to help other children find the joy I discovered through words. One place I found peace as an adult was during Friday night services at my synagogue — B’nai Jeshurun — in New York City. When people sang a lovely melody to “Shabbat Shalom” — the one that’s quiet and goes something like “Shaaaa-ahhh-bat Shalom, shaaaaa-ahhhhhh-bat, shaaa-aaaah baa-aaat shalom….” it was, to me, so very comforting. I began thinking about songs that referenced the days of the week. Sure, we have “Monday, Monday” and “Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday,” but what other songs reference days? Are there songs about, say, Wednesday? I understood singing about Shabbat… that quiet specialness, the “zen” — if you will — of Shabbat. So, I thought I’d write a book contrasting Shabbat with the other days of the week — those noisy, busy days. I decided to write it in rhyme for younger kids — and use alliteration to keep older children involved. It was so much fun! And that’s how Shh…Shh…Shabbat (KarBen Publishing, “one of the best Jewish Children’s Books of 2016” by Tablet Magazine) came to be.

One of my newest books, Shalom Bayit: A Peaceful Home (KarBen, 2020) reminds readers that they can find joy and peace at home, and that every home can be a cozy, restful, safe, and loving place. I started thinking about this idea a few years ago when, at temple, the rabbi asked: “What makes your home a sacred space?” I thought about how, in my home, we take off our shoes before entering. That keeps our home cleaner, neater. It also reminds us that we’re stepping into something special, someplace sacred, someplace where we don’t want the schmutz of the outside world to intrude. I think we all need special places — a fort in the living room, a table covered with a blanket, a closet, a place to hide where no one can see us. Sometimes, that retreat has to be imaginary, because, sometimes, there are just too many people around or there’s too much going on to make an actual fort or a secret hiding place.

Linda Elovitz Marshall

I also wanted to show that there are all sorts of homes, small and grand, and that each, in its own way, is special. That’s important. It’s also important to give attention to people who don’t have homes — maybe they have a sidewalk, an awning, somewhere that’s their spot, their special spot, a spot where they can, hopefully, find peace. In a way, that’s also where books come in. We can cuddle in a special chair, undisturbed and alone with a book or a thought, and enter our own world…. and there, we hope, we can find peace. Then, when we come out, we can share that special peace, we can help make that peace blossom in our homes. For a home should be just that… a place of peace, a special place.

These days, as Monday blurs into Tuesday into Wednesday, Shabbat is more important than ever. Shabbat takes the messiness out of the blur. It orders time, gives us a handle on the passage of time and on the importance of honoring our own time in this world, and on the importance of being grateful for every moment. In today’s complicated world, we’re also reminded of the importance of finding peace and harmony at home — of the need for Shalom Bayit. It’s hard, sometimes. Especially these days. But building a fort or throwing a blanket over a table can help.

Linda Elovitz Marshall grew up near Boston and raised her four children, a small flock of sheep, lots of zucchinis and countless rabbits in a historic farmhouse overlooking the Hudson River in upstate New York. A graduate of Barnard College of Columbia University, she has, in addition to writing and farming, taught early childhood and parenting education, and owned a bookstore. In addition to “Shalom Bayit: A Peaceful Home,” her newest books are “Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit” (Little Bee Books, January 2020) and “Have You Ever Zeen a Ziz?” (Albert Whitman & Co, April 2020), and she has two books coming out later this year: “The Polio Pioneer: The Story Of Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine” (Knopf, August 2020) and “Anne Frank: The Girl Heard Around the World” (Scholastic, September 2020). Her books have been translated into French, Spanish, Russian, Italian, and Korean. She is the daughter of Elaine Elovitz and the late Gerald Elovitz, aka Jerry Ellis of New England’s “Messiest Department Store” — the now-defunct Building #19 (whose story she wrote in “Good Stuff Cheap: The Story of Jerry Ellis and Building #19”) Read more about Linda and her books at www.lindamarshall.com.

Join Hebrew College’s Parenting Through a Jewish Lens on Zoom for a free family story time with Linda Elovitz Marshall at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, May 1. Marshall will read two of her books, Shalom Bayit and Shh… Shh… Shabbat, and share some kid-friendly art activities related to the books to build peace, joy, and shalom bayit— or domestic harmony — in your home during these complicated times. Click here for more information and to register. 

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