“Community has a spring in its step” – Chief
Jewish Report’s ANT KATZ sat down this week for a post-Shabbos Project interview with the architect of the acclaimed event, CHIEF RABBI WARREN GOLDSTEIN
Whereas around 10 000 among SA Jewry normally observe Shabbos fully, pundits put the figure for 11/12 October’s Shabbos at at least 30,000! The almost unbelievable success of The Shabbos Project is no secret, it has become an urban legend among SA Jewry.
But the level of its success, both in SA and among global Jewry, is an even more amazing story. As are Rabbi Goldstein’s thoughts on just why this idea exploded and the ramifications going forward.
“I am by nature an optimist,” Rabbi Goldstein says, “but the breadth and depth of the support and participation caught me off guard. The response has been overwhelming!” One of the things he liked most, says The Chief, was the way SA Jewry “proudly celebrated who we are.” That’s the SA culture, he says, unity in diversity.
The measures of success and involvement, says the Chief Rabbi, is based on anecdotal evidence – of which there is much to find. He believes that “the majority of the community” participated in some way.
“People had a chance to experience for themselves the inspiring and refreshing energy of Shabbos,” he says, but it was also about bringing families together and the kind of community building energy it generated. Shabbos, says the Chief, brings beauty into our lives. He quotes Justice Brandeis: “Stealing a day out of life to live.”
Another aspect that amazed Rabbi Goldstein, he says, “was that there was a true sense of joy and celebration – like the thousands who joined the chala bake and the 600 who turned out for the street dinner in Oaklands. There was a – tremendous atmosphere of taking to the streets.”
The Chief Rabbi says that the community response has also “captured world Jewry. I think we can feel a great sense of encouragement in our amazing, amazing community.”
What sparked the idea of The Shabbos Project?
A secular Israeli working in Israel, Prof Dan Ariely, was in SA last year on a consulting project. The Chief says he is one of the most respected behavioural scientists in the world. While in SA he made contact with Rabbi Goldstein as he was looking to find answers about Judaism. “We spoke about Shabbat and that was where the germ of the idea came from,” says the Chief Rabbi. “I stayed in contact with him.”
Ariely ended up keeping Shabbat last weekend for the first time. He also drafted a survey and has been researching what he considers to be the amazing social phenomenon in The Shabbos Project.
What garnered this success?
What does Rabbi Goldstein attribute the overwhelming success of this project to? “It hit the sweet spot,” he says, “both the breadth and the depth of the support was unbelievable.”
He says that two weeks prior to the event, “it passed the tipping point.” From then on in, it was the talk of the community, momentum started to mount and the excitement became palpable. –
The team that had been so successful on the Sinai Indaba and Generation Sinai projects were mustered into service. In fact, the team has been kept on for an extra month “to deal with the unanticipated mass of data from a quantitative and qualitative point of view,” says the Chief.
“The ultimate goal of this was to say: ‘Shabbos belongs to every Jew’ and people responded to this – they reconnected with an Old Friend, Shabbos,” says Rabbi Goldstein. He says that the invitation to participate went to all of SA Jewry, including Progressive and unaffiliated Jews – who, by all account, also embraced the event.
Rabbi Goldstein started formulating a plan with Laurence Horwitz. “I unveiled it at the closing session of the Sinai Indaba.” He says “and then we started fleshing it out.” He wrote an eight-point manifesto, met with Rabbis and briefed them at Rabbinical Conference, brainstormed with the Rabbis, met with the schools, primarily KDS and Herzlia and later met with Shul lay-leadership at the UOS conference .
“We brainstormed how to involve the schools so they all owned it,” he explains. Prefects of some schools became Project Ambassadors, Shuls and schools were partners. Our shuls were the most amazing partners and really made The Shabbos Project come alive for people. “That was crucial in attaining the tipping point and moving into high gear,” says the Chief Rabbi.
He then transferred ownership to Jewish institutions and individuals. “When people are invited to an event they go as a passive passenger,” he says, “this created active partners, even leaders – and led to spontaneous positive energy.”
“I have heard stories of people who went knocking on doors and inviting strangers to Shabbos, taking it from awareness to participation.” It had achieved that spontaneous energy.
“Community has a spring in its step”
With The Shabbos Project, says Rabbi Goldstein, “the community has a spring in its step!” He feels that Shabbos offers a compelling message for modern times, it comes with a message of rejuvenation, of family connection, and people have been stopping him in the streets to tell him that this was what they experienced.
“There have been a flood of sms-s and e-mails, wherever I go people are stopping me, stories are coming in from people who go to Shul once or twice a year – and they walked to Shul!”
Rabbi Goldstein’s wife, Gina, authored The Shabbos Project Guide Book which explained how to keep Shabbos for those who had never done so before.
The Chief admitted it wasn’t always easy, “there were voices of scepticism saying we should dilute it,” – meaning not push for people to keep Shabbos entirely. “I wanted to give it the authenticity. Why aim for less before you’ve even started?” he says.
Measures of success
The anecdotal evidence of the success of The Shabbos Project is overwhelming. It’s become a social movement.
Rabbi Goldstein points to the fact that Shuls were packed as if it was Rosh Hashanah, and at some with not a cars in sight. At Houghton Golf Course caddies went home. The non-Jewish Bridge Association posted under half of their normal scores. A non-Jewish-owned hairdresser closed on Saturday. A soccer coach cancelled training.
The stories keep pouring in of people who kept their first Shabbos – and it has morphed into “This is My Story” which can be seen (or added to) on the project’s Facebook page and Youtube channel. Testimonials can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or posted to https://www.facebook.com/theshabbosproject
The Shabbos Project has gone global
While the Chief’s “Generation Sinai” project went to more than 100 schools in 38 cities worldwide – The Shabbos Project has been an even bigger hit. It is now planned as an annual event in SA.
In Venice, Italy there was a Chala Bake in solidarity with the Project. “We are inundated with formal expressions of interest” says Rabbi Goldstein, fromthe US, Canada, Israel and Australia based on the SA experience, and “It has captured the (Jewish) world’s imagination,” he said this week. “There is a thirst out there in being able to give an authentic Jewish experience.”
The Chief Rabbi says that he and his team are working on an operational model so that as many communities around the world can share in the magic of The Shabbos Project. He foresees this as a “great South African export.”
“People are asking me: ‘Now what?,” says Rabbi Goldstein. “The place for this to be taken further is in our shuls and homes.” Individuals and families and communities are working out their way forward.
Clearly pleased with the results, and so he should be, Rabbi Goldstein says humbly: “We worked on this together, as a community, people rose to the occasion.” That may well be true, but it took an inspirational leader and a masterful executive to make it happen.
Shabbat Around The World beams out from Jozi
More than 75 devices around the globe logged in to Beit Luria’s World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) Shabbat Around the World programme on Friday, 15 January.
Whether it was breakfast time in California, tea time in Europe, or time to break challah in Johannesburg, participants logged in to take part in Beit Luria’s Kabbalat Shabbat service.
Among those participating were Rabbi Sergio Bergman, the president of the WUPJ; chairperson Carole Sterling; and Rabbi Nathan Alfred, the head of international relations. Singers Tulla Eckhart and Brian Joffe performed songs from a global array of artists, along with Toto’s Africa to add a little local flair to the service. After kiddish was said and bread was broken, Rabbi Bergman thanked Beit Luria for hosting the WUPJ. The shul looks forward to more collaborations with its global friends in the future.
UJW Sewing School graduates model creations
The outfits modelled by graduates of the Union of Jewish Women’s (UJW’s) Sewing School were all the more spectacular for the fact that some of their creators had never seen a sewing machine prior to the four-month course.
They were modelled at the school’s graduation ceremony at Oxford Shul on 15 December to much excitement and applause.
UJW executive member and Sewing School Manager Ariane Heneck expressed her gratitude to Chido Tsodzo, the school’s superb teacher, and the event ended with a much appreciated lunch for graduates and their invited guests.
The self-empowerment Sewing School for unemployed men and women was started by the UJW 10 years ago. It now has a small production team of ex-students, and some of its graduates have been employed in factories, while others are selling their own creations.
Israel Rugby 7s to camp with the Blitzbokke
The thrill-a-minute Rugby 7s have captured the hearts of fans around the world. The Blitzbokke, South Africa’s national Rugby 7s team, ranks second in the world, and is among the most exciting, formidable, and feared of 7s teams.
Exactly 9 191 km away are the Israelis, an emerging rugby nation that has talent, determination, and a world-class coach in South African Kevin Musikanth. Now, these two squads will meet. The Israeli 7s side will be travelling to the SAS Rugby Academy in Stellenbosch to train with the Blitzbokke.
The Blitzbokke will have the opportunity to prepare for the coming 7s rugby season by measuring their skills of play against the Israelis. And the Israelis, well, they will be rubbing shoulders with, and learning from the best in the world and honing their skills for their coming European Rugby season.
“It’s an opportunity for our boys to learn from the world’s best,” says Musikanth. The SAS Rugby Academy is run by the legendary Frankie Horn, a technical expert whose coaching guidelines and methods are second to none in World Rugby 7s.
Musikanth took over as Rugby 15s head coach in Israel in 2018, and in October 2019, he became director of rugby for the Israeli Rugby Union and head coach for the national programmes of both the 15s and the 7s.
Horn visited Israel last December at the behest of Rugby Israel and its supporting Olympic body and since then, the partnership has continued to grow. The upcoming training camp will begin in Israel, where Horn, together with Phil Snyman, the former Blitzbok captain and multiple world champion winner, will spend a week with the players and coaching staff at Wingate, Netanya, the home base of Rugby Israel. They will then all travel to Stellenbosch for a week’s camp with the Blitzbokke.
“We’ve already seen the difference through our partnership with Frankie. Two of our players were spotted by him on his previous trip to Israel, and have been training at SAS on the off-season,” says Musikanth. The two players are Omer Levinson (scrum half) and Yotam Shulman (lock).
Horn, technical advisor to Rugby Israel’s 7s, says “It is a great opportunity for both teams to derive positive benefit from the camp.”
Israel Rugby has been making considerable professional strides since Musikanth took over the reins. Israel 15s played their 100th test match against Cyprus and celebrated with a 34-22 victory.
“We’re in the top 25 in Europe in 15s and in the top 16 in 7s, the toughest, most competitive continent in world rugby,” says Musikanth, “and I can realistically see us setting our sights on the Top 15 and Top 12 respectively in the future.”
Currently, there are three eligible South Africans who are on the Israeli national squad: Jayson Ferera as flanker (Pirates Rugby Club), Daniel Stein as fly half (studying in Israel), and Jared Sichel as prop (Hamilton’s Rugby Club, Cape Town). Eligibility to play for a national team in rugby is stricter than in other sports. One does not qualify just because one has a passport. One has to have had a parent or grandparent that was born in that country or one has to have lived in the country for at least three years.
“With so much Jewish rugby talent around the world, we would be able to put a world-class Israeli national team together if not for the measures that restrict eligibility to national call ups,” says Musikanth.
The Israel Rugby development project was accelerated thanks to Musikanth initiating Bridges through Rugby. This project is the collective effort of a few South African Jewish businessmen who appreciate the long-term vision of Israel becoming a stronger rugby nation. They have come on board to assist with this most opportune tour. National financial support is fixed and, as such, is limited. While the strong players and national coaches will be attending the training camp in Stellenbosch, there will be some that will, unfortunately, have to stay behind.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our players and coaches. To get to see the best upfront and feed off their knowledge is going to be incredible,” says Musikanth. “Everyone is eager to go, of course, but there is a cap to the support we have in place. We would like to take a development u20 squad as well as coaching staff who would carry the benefits of this into the future. A rugby visit to Stellenbosch can change rugby lives in many respects. Stellenbosch is rugby utopia!”
Rugby aside, with the Israelis and South Africans camping together, the question of what will be for dinner after a gruelling day’s training may be a matter of contention. A tussle for whether to serve boerewors or shwarma may result in a scrum in the SAS dining hall to determine the outcome.
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