Shabbos Project takes world by storm

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Throughout the world, the Shabbos Project united Jews in shuls, schools, streets, homes and in this, the third massive move towards togetherness and keeping the Sabbath day holy, there was a 100 per cent increase in participation.
by SUZANNE BELLING | Oct 28, 2015

Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, who initiated  the Shabbos Project three years ago, told SA Jewish Report: “Last year’s inaugural international Shabbos Project saw Jewish communities in 465 cities and 65 countries taking part. An audit on the 2015 event confirms that this year the Project reached more than 900 participating cities in 75 countries - in terms of the cities, a 100 per cent increase.

“To co-ordinate the initiative on such a large scale, the head office in Johannesburg worked with around 5 000 partners worldwide - up from 1 800 partners in 2014.”

The excitement was palpable - never mind sports – including the Rugby World Cup (there was a large screen up at the Norwood Mall and Jewish sports fans were encouraged to use their PVRs - “you cannot record Shabbos” - they were told..

Previous non-observant Jews abstained from working, cooking, driving or using electrical appliances and cell phones.

“However, the Shabbos Project is what many South Africa Jews chose to do, even if there was a little confusion regarding the tearing of toilet paper and not using toothpaste.

“I think the major observance is important,” said one religious woman. “Each year, they can become more and more observant until they become totally shomrei Shabbos,” she said.

In the heartland of Jewish life centred on the many shuls and shtieblach in the Sydenham, Highlands North, Fairmont, Glenhazel and Orchards areas of Johannesburg, Rabbi Yehuda Stern, associate rabbi of the Sydenham/Highlands North Hebrew Congregation, was upbeat about the response.

“Maybe not all participants became fully observant, but they are definitely more so now.

“The atmosphere in the shul was electric during the Friday night service in the shul, with joyous davening, by the Solomon Brothers joining Chazzan Yudi Cohen in the style of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. The synagogue was packed to capacity and after the service there was a street brocha and dancing in Main Street, themed “Redds and Rugelach”.

A lunch was served in the shul hall on Shabbat, with guest speaker Michael Freeman, deputy ambassador for Israel, who spoke about the future of the State of Israel.

A massive Havdalah concert was held on the Norwood Mall Rooftop, again featuring the three Solomon Brothers.

There were Havdalah concerts and celebrations throughout the world, including a display of fireworks in Melbourne.

One thing was clear - in spite of the terrorism striking at the very heart of Israel -  no one was deterred from taking part in the Shabbos Project, which even included dinners in closed-off streets and a picnic on the lawns in Sea Point, Cape Town, opposite the sea.

Of course, security was beefed up everywhere - from the huge Challah Bake in the Norwood Mall, attended by close on 6 000 people to the functions in Israel, a country usually on high alert. But the indefatigable Israelis forgot their troubles for 25 hours of Shabbat in the spirit of prayer and celebration.

In Melbourne, Australia, 2 500 attended a challah bake, with similar “bakes” in the US and England, where 100 expat South Africans organised their own challah bake in London.

Even as far afield as Gothenburg, Sweden, Jews celebrated at Chabad, where well-know Limmud speaker Annika Hernroth-Rothstein was an invited guest and keynote speaker.

In Sydney, Beit Shemesh, Jersey, Lancaster PA, Buenos Aires, Chicago, Cleveland, Boca Raton, and, of course Jerusalem, Jews flocked to all the challah bakes, shul services, Havdalah concerts and family get-togethers. The motto of the Shabbos Project is “Keeping it together”, all as one people, with one destiny, even if the Anglo world could not make out the videos in Cyrillic script or Chinese!

Rabbi Michael Katz, of Chabad of Illovo, had the final say. “It is an absolutely incredible project. “ His shul hosted 400 people to a lunch.

However, he added that “my sense was the there were people who know nothing (about Shabbos observance) and we are still missing that bracket”.

While saying that Jews during the first few Shabbos observances could not be expected to do everything, “credit should be given for the little bit people do. In my opinion, it should not be an ‘all or nothing’ concept.”



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