Shabbat as an Entrepreneurship Accelerator

By Narkis Alon

Ever since I was a kid I thought Shabbat was a wonderful idea, a weekly opportunity to disconnect from the noise of daily life. The aspect of rest was something I always respected.

Over the years I became an entrepreneur and my daily life has become, more and more, one from which I need a regular break. The company I lead deals with this tension between action and rest. It is called Double You. We empower women in business. Through retreats and ongoing community support, we create an environment for women to fulfill themselves professionally.

Our strongest tool is our women-only retreats where we make space and time for entrepreneurs to develop initiatives, reclaim their confidence and connect with other founders who will support them on their entrepreneurial journeys.

We instituted rules in our retreats: no phones in order to promote interpersonal connection; limited networking or name-dropping in order to be in the moment and get to know one another; the same clothes to foster a sense of equality; and no men in order to foster a sense of sisterhood.

When we planned our most recent retreat, in November, our sponsor, the Network Incubator, an initiative of Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, voiced concern about our desire to hold this event over a weekend – specifically, over Shabbat.

“How can you create a program that is inclusive to all if you are holding it over Shabbat?” they asked us.

“What’s the problem?” I replied, “We will keep Shabbat. I was always inspired by it.”

I grew up in a secular family in Israel. We sometimes had Shabbat dinners, but it was more of a cultural habit than a religious one. Honestly, all I knew of Shabbat was that over its 24 hours, you are not allowed to use electricity and, most importantly, your phone. I never went deep into its spiritual dimension.

Besides our no-phone rule, the retreats also barred driving, so, to me, honoring Shabbat seemed like it would be fairly simple. I figured that since the retreat offered creativity and spirituality exercises and did this all in nature it already had a Shabbat fragrance to it. Nothing was missing. Or so I thought.

You see, in Israel, it is rare that secular Jews embrace Shabbat observance of any sort. It is a big deal for a secular person to want to honor Shabbat in any way.

To help me make good on my commitment and knowing that I had a limited understanding of Shabbat observance, I enlisted the help of two Orthodox women entrepreneurs. From them I learned much more about Shabbat observance than I ever realized existed: there is no writing and even more challenging to our original plans, you are not allowed to speak of money or make business plans.

The only professionally-oriented thing we could do on the Shabbat of the retreat was examine the spiritual side of our businesses. We received approval to facilitate a workshop in which the participants develop the vision for their business, but had to do so without picking up a pencil. Imagine the creativity that required! This was a fascinating exercise and it was an activity that received the highest rating on the feedback form.

The restriction of Shabbat felt a little constraining at first. As we made our way through the day, though, I was surprised by how I began to fall in love with these restrictions.

If you think about it, Shabbat is the most popular common retreat out there – it happens on a weekly basis. Scientifically, it was already proven that people perform better on their job when they integrate time of rest as part of their routine; but how surprising it is that the Jews knew about it and implemented it so long ago.

By the time we concluded Havdalah on Saturday night, marking the return to the work week, it was clear that our programmatic inclusion of Shabbat served as an accelerator for our participants.

Here is how:

1. As entrepreneurs, we work very hard to build our businesses. “Burn out” is a constant danger. On Shabbat, we dedicated our time to connecting with ourselves and with one another and revisiting our higher vision, which made the rest of the retreat much stronger.

2. Lighting Shabbat candles offered participants an explicit opportunity to set a specific intention of how they wanted to show up and be present for the next 24 hours.

3. Kiddush: We encouraged participants to wear white clothes to Shabbat dinner. We sang songs and welcomed Shabbat as if we were a big family, which created a more meaningful dinner because we experienced it as a group. The more connected and bonded the group, the stronger the overall retreat experience.

4. Parashat Ha Shavua: On the Shabbat of our retreat, the weekly Torah portion detailed the life of Sarah the matriarch. We used her story as a way to discuss the role of women in society and as entrepreneurs. Jewish tradition expands the vocabulary we can use to discuss our work and our lives.

5. Havdalah is about separating the holy and the mundane, the Sabbath from the rest of the week. For us, it also signaled the distinction between “retreat” and the next 24 hours, which were intense as participants worked on their business and action plans. Observing Shabbat allowed participants, before this deep dive into work, to rest and reset their intentions, and to bring that sense of composure and thoughtfulness into their work.

In Jewish literature, Shabbat is described as a bride or a queen: “Lecha Dodi Likrat Kallah.” The Jewish people were the first to recognize this feminine time as a chance to focus on our growth and restore our energies. I believe we as women have a responsibility to integrate times of rest and connection into our routine, and to help others cultivate that same kind of rest within their lives.

This process of diving deeper into Shabbat accomplished its mission, it connected me to my vision on a higher level and fueled me to take action in the world.

And I was not alone in this realization. One retreat participant, who is not Jewish, commented that the Shabbat observance we undertook was the most impactful thing she experienced that weekend.

Maybe we will make Shabbat a part every retreat, since its creator, God, obviously knew what He was doing.

Or should I say She?

Narkis Alon is the CEO and Co-Founder of Double You and a Schusterman Fellow. Learn more about the Double You retreats here and by watching the video. Learn more about the Schusterman Fellowship.