Shabbos Project in 1 500 cities
The Shabbos Project is once again happening this weekend in more than 1 500 cities and 100 countries around the world.
Following last year’s pivot to home-based Shabbos experiences and Zoom challah bakes – necessitated by the pandemic – this year, the Shabbos Project is close to returning to pre-COVID-19 levels of involvement.
In South Africa, events centre on the Big Shabbos Walk, with shuls arranging a whole host of Shabbos afternoon programmes, many of them outdoors to take advantage of the weather, which also makes it safer from a COVID-19 point of view.
All across the world, things are back in full swing.
Among the new initiatives: a student from Cornell University in New York is leading a campaign among fellow students to switch off their phones for Shabbos. International youth movement EnerJew is co-ordinating the “Gift Shabbos” campaign in which Jewish teenagers in 20 cities in the former Soviet Union will bake challah and deliver it along with greeting cards and candles to elder community members. And Olami France is co-ordinating a full Shabbos experience for students on college campuses in Toulouse, Aix-en-Provence, and Paris, and for French-speaking students in Jerusalem, Madrid, and Porto.
The Global Jewish Pen Pal Program is organising a challah bake for its community of Jewish pen pals of all ages living around the world. Beit Issie Shapiro, Israel’s pioneering leader and innovator in the field of disabilities, has launched an accessible Shabbos-themed digital platform to help children around the world learn about Shabbos in an engaging and exciting way.
And Zehud, which provides online Jewish education to children in isolated Jewish communities across Europe, is hosting a Zoom challah bake for families from all 57 regions where it’s active.
In Prague, Czech Republic, a community Shabbaton will include Shabbos dinner at a local kosher restaurant, a children’s prayer workshop, and a havdalah concert at the Lauder Jewish day school. Cali, Colombia has an all-week programme, including a flower workshop for women, cocktail class for men, and a Thursday night pizza bake, followed by a central Shabbaton for the community. And in Birmingham in the United Kingdom, four very different organisations – Aish UK, Chabad, Jsoc, and the University of Birmingham Chaplaincy – are joining forces for a special student challah bake.
In Israel, where the Shabbos Project has been a real unifying force in society, a group of women in Kochav Yair have organised a street kiddush for the entire yishuv for people of all levels of observance to get to know each other better. In Eilat, open-invitation Shabbos dinners are happening at four central locations across the city. In Karnei Shomron, members of the religious Bnei Akiva and secular Tzofim youth groups have joined forces to arrange a Shabbos gala dinner for soldiers from the local battalion. And, the residents of Raanana will be providing hot, homemade Shabbos meals to Magen David Adom first responders. Finally, a group of Israel-based influencers on Instagram, from diverse backgrounds and varying levels of observance, are publishing a series of posts to bring awareness of the Shabbos Project to a younger audience.
Meanwhile, a woman in Park Potomac in the United States is going door to door in her neighbourhood, inviting anyone with a mezuzah for Shabbos. Organisers of a challah bake in Lisbon, Portugal are using the proceeds to distribute Shabbos meals to Jewish families in need. And in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, four families new to the Shabbos experience are hosting Shabbos dinner – they’ve invited all their neighbours and have received a special Shabbos kit to assist them with the preparations.
Other highlights include a glow-in-the-dark challah bake in Toronto, Canada; Guatemala reopening its shul for special Shabbos services after a two-year hiatus; a Shabbos dinner run by and for university students in Nice, France; and a Shabbaton for high school learners in Montevideo, Uruguay.
A community that inspires the world
Over the years, so many people around the world have said to me that the Shabbos Project could only have been born in South Africa. Who can forget that ground breaking Shabbos in October 2013 when nobody in the world had heard of the Shabbos Project?
Nobody thought it possible for Jews, from all backgrounds, to unite across our differences and keep a full Shabbos. Nobody thought it possible until we, the South African Jewish community, showed everyone that it was. And so, what started right here, with us, in 2013, has since spread to more than 1 500 cities and 100 countries around the world. We showed the world how to “keep it together”. We inspired the world.
As the sun sets this Friday, in Los Angeles and London, Melbourne and Moscow, Buenos Aires and Berlin, Tel Aviv and Tokyo, Manila and Montreal, Addis Ababa and Ashkelon, Sao Paulo and Seattle, and everywhere in between – Jews from all walks of life and all levels of observance are coming together to keep one Shabbos. And it all started with us.
The Shabbos Project was born here because of so much that’s unique and admired about our South African Jewish community throughout the world. Our unity and inclusivity – the mutual respect and bonds of friendship that cut across religious and other differences – is world renown. The Shabbos Project is all about Jewish unity, and we’ve shown the world that we don’t judge or label each other; that the only thing that matters is that we are Jewish.
Then there’s our fierce dedication to our Jewish heritage and values. The Shabbos Project was born here because as a community we have a deep respect for the Torah’s awesome, divine wisdom. And it’s the Jewish values that emerge from our Torah that have always held our community together; values that have instilled within us compassion and kindness, derech eretz, a commitment to community itself. Our close-knit families. Our tenacity and can-do spirit. Our creativity and boundless optimism. These are the reasons the South African Jewish community is revered around the world.
We all know the problems we face here as well. We’ve weathered a turbulent two years with the pandemic, a global challenge. But we’re also dealing with a number of local problems – the aftershocks of the July riots, ongoing load-shedding, lack of government delivery – and perhaps the biggest challenge of all, increasing financial pressure on so many families and institutions within our community.
And while there remain great challenges, it’s the very challenges we faced and overcome through the years that have brought out the remarkable resilience, strength, and creativity of our precious community. We’ve been through so much, we’ve been written off many times – and yet here we are, still thriving.
On the occasion of the ninth annual Shabbos Project, let’s step back for a moment and appreciate how special our community is. Our schools, shuls, welfare institutions, our security organisations, the abundant and vibrant Jewish life, the extraordinary Jewish infrastructure, the closeness and camaraderie, the disproportionate contribution we make to the greater society make us one the great Jewish communities in the world.
Especially at this time of the Shabbos Project, I see the magic, beauty, and magnificence of our community. I’m not blind to our problems and shortcomings. Over these past 17 years as chief rabbi, I’ve seen us go through a lot, sometimes at our best and sometimes not. And yet, I’m so proud of our community, inspired by the way we have rallied to meet our challenges together.
On this special Shabbos of the Shabbos Project, let’s celebrate as a community and give grateful thanks to Hashem for all our gifts. Let’s celebrate our incredible achievements and the bountiful blessing of being part of this community. Let’s celebrate Shabbos together in grand style, remembering that the world looked to us for inspiration eight years ago – and it’s looking at us still.
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