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Chief rabbi’s Shabbat book gets starry endorsement

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Acclaimed international actress Mayim Bialik is more than just a neuroscientist, Jeopardy host, and Emmy nominee, she’s also a proud Jew who regularly shares aspects of her identity online.

On 3 April, the actress posted a video on social media expressing her thoughts on Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein’s new book Shabbat. A Day to Create Yourself, which highlights the importance of the Sabbath in encouraging personal, spiritual, and societal rejuvenation.

“It’s not often that you get to interact with the chief rabbi of a country,” said Bialik in the video, “but there’s a chief rabbi of South Africa, his name is Rabbi Goldstein, and I’ve gotten to speak to him. And he wrote a really, really beautiful book about Sabbath and the importance of powering down literally, physically, and also spiritually. It’s just a really awesome guidebook.”

Said Goldstein, “I first connected with Mayim Bialik when the Shabbat Project spread around the world in 2014. Mayim emerged as a proud, vocal ambassador.

“In a series of posts, she called on her many fans around the world to “try one Shabbat”, and said that it would ‘be awesome in the most peaceful, quiet, restorative, and unifying way possible’,” the chief rabbi said.

The social media post followed Bialik’s official endorsement, published with the book, in which she described it as “an essential for any home … the start of creating peace, wholeness, and holiness”.

In an exclusive interview with the SA Jewish Report, Bialik said she was “really honoured and thrilled to be included in anything surrounding the book”, explaining that she decided to share her thoughts online because “a lot more people are resonating with the importance of a Sabbath, and the importance of not constantly being attached to one’s phone and in particular, focusing on a day that has the power also to bring us closer to our families and also to G-d, if we so choose to call that power in the universe, and also closer to ourselves”.

Goldstein was touched by her enthusiasm to share the book on her social media – where she has more than four million followers – saying, “In today’s hyper-transactional culture where celebrities and influencers are paid exorbitant sums to endorse products, it’s so inspiring and refreshing that Mayim would volunteer to do something like this for the cause simply because she believes passionately in the message of the book and in the ideals of Shabbat.”

“Over the years, Mayim has been a wonderful champion and public spokesperson for Shabbat, and her vocal support is part of a growing movement of influential voices in the Jewish world recognising the central importance of Shabbos in today’s world, and seeing its resurgence as a major calling of our times.”

“Shabbat has meant a lot of different things to me throughout my life,” Bialik said. “I went to a reform synagogue as a child, so often we would go to services on Friday nights, but we didn’t really have a Shabbat observance on Saturdays.”

She “grew up in an unusual home” in that her mother had been raised Orthodox, but she hadn’t, she said. “My mother had a lot of remnants from her childhood that we didn’t really talk about, meaning we had two sets of dishes, but it was never explained to me that those were, you know, our milchik and fleishik dishes … and we did light candles on Friday night.

“I started going to Jewish Federation programmes in middle school, and that’s really the first time that I interacted with traditional, conservative Jews and learned more about what the actual Shabbat experience entailed,” she said, explaining that her own observance increased in her college years.

She has continued to adapt her relationship with Shabbat throughout her life. “I’ve been divorced for 11 years, and observance has definitely been a challenge as a divorced woman. It’s a different kind of culture. [And] COVID-19 changed our synagogue going, and that was really hard. It’s been an interesting rhythm to get back into, but I will say that what I most appreciate about Rabbi Goldstein’s book is its relevance, especially to our culture in the past handful of years, in which so many of us are consumed by the pull of electronics, in particular cellphones.

“We’re seeing a lot more conversation even in secular circles about powering down and the importance of a break. And so, Rabbi Goldstein’s book is coming to our lives at a point where this is so much part of our consciousness, and we need those kinds of reminders. For me, it’s really helped, I guess, with a reaffirmation of all of the things that for thousands of years the Jewish people have held so sacred.”

Along with her praise for the book, she also mentioned in her video that she had sent the book to fellow Jewish actor Sacha Baron Cohen. Bialik recalled the time she had a meeting with his company, held in an office on his property on a Friday. “I remember I received an email before saying that this is a Shabbat observant home, so please plan to leave by, you know, whatever the time was.

“I wasn’t planning on trying to invite myself for Shabbat,” she joked. “I mean, I respect him tremendously as a comedian and as an artist, but I was really touched that Shabbat observance is part of the consciousness of his company.”

After Bialik shared that she had given the book to Baron Cohen as a gift, Goldstein was inspired to launch a “buy one, gift one” campaign. In it, he calls on people to buy two books, one for themselves and another as a gift for someone who would appreciate it.

“I admire Mayim for the way she uses her high-profile platform and enormous influence to promote Shabbos,” said Goldstein. “She has openly shared her views on the importance of face-to-face time with family and how Shabbos provides an incredible opportunity once a week for family bonding without the interference of technology, work schedules, and errands.”

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