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The Jewish world spending Shabbat together




We are powerful people, who are strong-willed – some may call us stubborn – and determined. We don’t do things in a small way, despite being, on the scale of things, a tiny community.

We make ourselves and our voices heard, come what may. But when we set out to do something, we go all the way. So, it is with the Shabbos Project, the brainchild of our Chief Rabbi, Dr Warren Goldstein.

I don’t know about you, but I feel the excitement in the air this week as we work toward this weekend’s Shabbos Project. This isn’t a chag or a memorial, it is Shabbos, and it comes around every week no matter what.

But there is something different about this coming weekend.

I guess there is something about more than one million people in more than 1 400 cities in the world buying into the Shabbos Project. In other words, they are all observing Shabbat, and their shuls and communal leaders are going all out to make it special.

For those of us who don’t usually observe Shabbat, it’s about not going about your usual Saturday chores. Not switching on lights and cooking. Not checking Facebook, Twitter, emails, and other online media. Instead, it is taking that time for family, one-on-one communication, time out, prayer, and other spiritual pursuits.

For many of us, this is what we do every Shabbat, but for the rest of us, it is pretty extraordinary.

And for those of you who do it every weekend, it becomes special in that you are sharing it with people who don’t regularly observe Shabbat, and you get to show them the magic.

Interestingly, nobody is forcing or coercing any of us to participate. It is a choice. And yet, so many of us are buying into it.

I understand why. I love the idea of spending quiet time with my family, not competing with a tablet or a cellphone. I am not going to rush out and do the things I need to do for the following week. Instead, I am going to walk to shul with my family, have some quiet time, or perhaps a few animated discussions.

I am going to share my Shabbos with my extended family… and create memories.

For me, the Shabbos Project is just that. Time for undivided family time, and time out of the norm.

However, while I am buying into this, I am aware of all those naysayers out there. I can’t help but hear them going on about all the money spent marketing this project. “What a waste! It could feed so many for so long!” Then, there are those who insist the Shabbos Project is “so last Saturday”, and that they have “been there, done that, and already worn out the T-shirt”.

You know what, I love this community because even when there is something great happening, there are some who will put their hearts and souls into it and others who will find only the negative in it. That’s who we are, I guess.

As for the money spent, nobody has been forced or tricked into putting money into it. It is open and honest, and there is nothing sinister about it. This is not communal money we are talking about either.

As for it being old hat, perhaps it is… for you. But as this project keeps growing, it is clear that so many people around the world love the fact that one million Jews from almost every nook and cranny are making this Shabbos special.

I don’t even recognise the names of some of the towns and cities where people are doing the Shabbos Project.

Did you know that in the United Kingdom, though, there are only a few events happening? The UK’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who by all accounts is a forward-thinking and ground breaking rabbi, has chosen not to buy into South Africa’s Shabbos Project this year. He says it is too close to the chaggim, and not a great time for “the organisers”.

So, the British Shabbos Project, or what is known there as “ShabbatUK”, will be held at the beginning of March next year. It is such a pity, because they will not be a part of the international endeavour, but are doing it on their own. Is this the Jewish Brexit, or what?

How come it is more complicated and difficult for the Jews of the UK, but the rest of the world is managing this time? Apparently, Mirvis isn’t stopping anyone from participating, but he is not putting his weight behind it. It is a sad for ex-South Africans and British Jews not to be a part of this amazing world event.

It is clear that Mirvis is also doing very impressive things, and he doesn’t go for what is necessarily popular, but what he believes is important. So, while I find the decision on the Shabbos Project strange, and wonder what is really behind it, I respect many of his other moves. (See page 7.)

I must admit to thinking when the Shabbos Project started six years ago that it wasn’t going to work because those who observe Shabbat every week are going to do it anyway. And those who don’t, are not going to change their ways for one weekend.

I was wrong. The events that take place around the world beggar belief. There are a few that are mentioned on page 10, but they are just a pinprick in the number of events planned for this weekend.

So, for all my initial cynicism and my buy-in now, I leave it up to you to decide how you are going to spend this weekend.

Shabbat Shalom!

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