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A Shabbos moment to proclaim ‘Am Yisrael Chai!’

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In the relentless, grim news we’ve been following every waking moment since 7 October, the only respite we’ve had, the only true moment of stillness, is Shabbos, a full 25 hours without compulsive doomscrolling and the stress of a world in turmoil.

It’s a day of connection to our Creator, to the most precious people in our lives, and to ourselves. We can actually hear ourselves think and truly feel our feelings without the intrusions of a noisy, demanding world.

It’s a day of experiencing the pleasures of real life, not its pale virtual facsimile. A day of walking, sleeping, singing, tasting, learning, praying, bonding, family, community. A day of loved ones around the Shabbos table with no-one running off to do errands, no-one distracted by a WhatsApp that must be answered, or a news flash that must be consumed.

As we all prepare to keep this Shabbos from sunset to stars out, I’m looking forward to the feeling of comfort and strength this divine day brings.

And yet, I think back to the Shabbos four weeks ago, when the serenity and sacredness of the day was shattered for the peaceful Jewish communities living on the Gaza border by terrorists filled with hate and savagery. It was surely no coincidence that they chose such a holy day to perpetrate their evil attack.

Because Shabbos is so much more than just a day of rest. It’s who we are. It’s the very soul of the Jewish people. The divine meaning of being a Jew. This war against Israel and the global surge of antisemitism it has unleashed isn’t about borders or politics. It’s about who we are and what we stand for, an ongoing attempt to uproot our eternal values and history, our divine mission.

With that in mind, this week’s Shabbos Project is an opportunity for us, the South African Jewish community, to proclaim to the world “Am Yisrael Chai” (the people of Israel live) by joining Jews in every corner of the globe to keep this Shabbos from sunset to stars out. A sublime moment of global Jewish unity. One people. One heart. One Shabbos. Keeping it together for Israel.

And while we do so, we think of and pray for the brave soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, and all those involved in the war effort to destroy Hamas so that it can never again perpetrate the grotesque barbarism that shocked every civilised person in the world, and never again threaten the existence of the world’s only Jewish state.

Their Shabbos out on the battlefield, compelled by the primary Torah principle of pikuach nefesh – saving life – from keeping Shabbos in the usual way, is even holier than ours. In their gear, without the warmth of a family kiddush and meal, without the comfort of a restful sleep, without the joy of a table filled with laughter and singing, their bravery and self-sacrifice humbles us.

And so, as we enter the warm embrace of Shabbos this Friday at sunset together with Jews throughout the world, let’s pray for our brothers and sisters in Israel, and let’s take a moment to offer a prayer of thanksgiving to our Creator for the precious gift of Shabbos, delivered to us with His love every week, as it sustains and holds us, comforts and inspires us, the way it has for all the generations of Jews before us. Am Yisrael Chai! Shabbat Shalom!

  • Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein is the chief rabbi of South Africa.

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