There is nothing quite like the Shabbos walk, a time-honored custom at Orthodox Jewish sleepaway camps and a defining element of many young Jews’ romantic lives.
In case you don’t know, a Shabbos walk is the term used for the awkward Saturday afternoon strolls taken by Jewish youths across America, essentially hoping to find love.
Whether you were displaying the strength of your three-week relationship or hoping to light a spark with a fresh face, Shabbos walking was an essential ritual. Girls took particular delight in this activity, often preferring to hone their unseasoned matchmaking abilities rather than actually go on a walk. To an 11-year-old boy thrust into a militant Orthodox Zionist structure, girls are a source of conflict. You can’t stop who you crush on, but your actions must be displayed in a polite and restrained manner, in concordance with ancient Jewish law.
Sneaking off to the woods to make out was a not even a hypothetical possibility, much less one that ever came to fruition. So you took what you could get, which in my case meant letting my friend Danielle fix me up with her friend Aliza.
Unfortunately, I was already head over heels for Danielle. She was a blonde, blue-eyed Texan who personified the kind of sassy female I had been missing during my first decade on earth.
As a spineless kid who was terrified of getting in trouble, I recognized and cherished her precocious impudence. Her friend was sweet, but all I could see was that she and her parents still hadn’t figured out that her glasses covered most of her face.
Although in my head I turned this Shabbos walk down a hundred different ways, Danielle’s unbridled excitement at setting us up coupled with my lack of even a whiff of testicular fortitude meant this walk was indeed going to happen.
I imagined leaving the walk in the middle and sprinting to my friend to confess my feelings. Instead, I told myself that taking a walk with her friend would be the best way to stay close to her. I was really that naive. We decided to meet near the far goal of the boy’s soccer field. This was intentional, as trying to find this rather nondescript person in a general area set against a sea of blue and white (required garb for Friday nights and Saturdays) would have been near impossible.
The beginning of the walk was reminiscent of some ancient Japanese ritual—few if any words were exchanged between a ‘shidduched couple,’ but instead of bowing to one another, we set a quick pace in a desperate attempt to ease the tension.
By the time we realized there was nothing to say, we had traversed a good portion of the camp and I was still looking sheepishly at the ground (there’s a reason they call it a Shabbos walk and not a Shabbos talk).
In this particular instance there was no hand holding or even laughter, only mumbled conversation drowned out by the young cat-callers expertly perched around the camp (needless to say, there were plenty of boys who took great delight in jeering others to cover up their own insecurities about not having someone to go one a walk with. At least this is what I told my young, startled self).
I hate to say it, but all I could think about was how much I wish my impertinent friend with the shiksa goddess looks was standing next to me instead of my date. After what felt like weeks, we finally parted (girls and boys campuses were universes away).
While I was relieved that I had completed this fabled act, I held onto the dream that the next one would be Danielle. Or anyone who I had even a remote interest in kissing.