Years ago, as an agnostic college grad, I searched for answers as I struggled with my Jewish identity. A shul in my New Jersey hometown invited me to experience Shabbos. Having a special day each week to contemplate life, join kind families in conversation and song, raid bookshelves and go to shul was wonderful. I started keeping some semblance of Shabbos, but was still on the fence as to whether it was really for me.
My Jewish best friend from high school, who had moved to Hollywood and fell in love with a non-Jewish actress, was getting married. The wedding was being held on a yacht in California, on Shabbos. Along with three other long-time buddies, I had committed to being a groomsman at the wedding. My rabbi tried to convince me not to go, but I cared about my friends long before I cared about Shabbos.
We flew to San Francisco and took a week-long road trip down the coast to Newport Beach to the event. It was awful. My friends teased me for my newfound observance, impeding any effort I made to keep kosher, daven, play Jewish music or share anything I had been learning about. My bonds with once-close companions were being torn apart. I felt more hurt and alone than I had ever been in my entire life. I asked Hashem for help.
All of the wedding guests were booked to stay at a nice hotel and the ceremony was being held in a nearby harbor on Shabbos night. There were no shuls for miles, so my day plans were to just to hole up in our room with some food and books and have a private little Shabbos party by myself until it was time to leave.
Hashem had other plans.
By the time we pulled up to the front of the hotel on Friday afternoon, I was miserable and just wanted to go home. While waiting to check-in, I spotted a kid with a kippah and tzitzis stroll past. And then another one. They were the first frum Jews I’d seen all week. I was shocked to discover dozens of more Jewish teenagers hanging around buses in the parking lot. The lobby was buzzing with a hundred more! I ran to a man with a beard and a clipboard to ask what was going on.
NCSY was hosting its annual West Coast Shabbaton. Over 500 Orthodox teenagers from across the country were gathering at the exact same hotel as all of the intermarriage guests!
I told the rabbi about my situation. He welcomed me to join them for all the meals, minyanim, classes, anything I needed. It was too good to be true and yet it was true. The tables had turned and Shabbos Kodesh was now being served on a silver platter.
That evening, I put on a tuxedo and kippah and went to the wedding. As the boat cruised around the harbor before sunset, the bride and groom exchanged vows. I found two blown-out candles leftover from the ceremony and approached the bar to grab glasses to light them in. The groom’s father found me there and had the bartender bring out a bottle of Manischewitz he bought just for me. Right then and there, I lit Shabbos candles and made Kiddush for the first time.
My friends’ initial plan was to check out Saturday night and drive south to San Diego before flying back east, but now they wanted to leave in the morning instead. I pleaded with them to reconsider. They conceded for me to daven with the group and grab some kosher food-to-go before leaving. During Shacharis, I was so torn. Hashem clearly made this happen. Had I already done enough to honor Shabbos and could leave? Did He want me to ditch my friends for a bunch of strangers? I scrounged up some courage and told my friends that I was going to stay. I would take a train to San Diego after nightfall to meet them. They were furious.
On their way out of the hotel, they huffed into an elevator, which I skipped for the stairs. The elevator broke down and they were stuck inside for almost an hour. I went on my way and had a truly epic Shabbos, with delicious food, guest speakers, new friends and a Havdalah kumzitz finale. I no longer doubted Hashem’s existence or the value of Shabbos, the testament to Hashem being the Creator and Orchestrator of the Universe and all of our lives.