By Ruth Judah.
The objective is to have “one Shabbat celebrated – and kept in full – across the Jewish world, by the entire Jewish people, at the same time.”
This is the week of the Shabbas Project. Billboards and listings encourage us with the words, Shabbos Project; Keeping it Together. The honoree is this Shabbat, Parasha Noach, October 24/25 where every Jewish person is encouraged to become involved in welcoming and honoring the holiday of Shabbat for all 25 hours. More than 800 Shabbos Project partners from 150 cities around the world have already registered to run the initiative in their cities and communities.
In Melbourne, Australia, which is the first continent to welcome Shabbat each week, The International Shabbos Project has been called “the most ambitious Jewish identity initiative ever undertaken.”
2013 saw the birth of the project in South Africa where Chief Rabbi, Dr. Warren Goldstein, enjoyed overwhelming success from his community and 70,000 people entered the spirit of the Project with 90% subsequently saying they wanted to permanently keep some aspect of Shabbat in their lives. The youtube must-see video summarized the momentous event in moving words, images and music.
In light of the overwhelming success of last year’s Shabbos Project, Chief Rabbi Goldstein, “came up with the idea of an International Shabbos Project – one Shabbat celebrated and kept in full – across the Jewish world, by the entire Jewish people, at the same time.” In February, he opened an office in South Africa, with the sole purpose of achieving this in 2014. The event enables those who have never experienced Shabbat to slow down and enjoy their families and friends and spirituality. At the same time it offers a way for Shomer Shabbat families to share this central part of our heritage.
There is no doubt it is an outrageously ambitious initiative. Yet already it is looking like it will be a success, perhaps in some countries and cities more substantially than others. “Crucially, these aren’t just people supporting the Shabbos Project as individuals or pledging to keep Shabbat on their own,” explained Laurence Horwitz, who heads up central office. “Rather, these are religious and communal leaders, or simply passionate individuals, who have committed to bringing others on board using all resources at their disposal; their community structures, their personal influence, their networks and affiliations.”
As the number of people who define themselves as orthodox Jews increases, there is more understanding of the recuperative qualities that Shabbat observance brings to us. Much publicity was given to the Jewish Senator, Joseph Liebermann, when he was nominated as the US vice presidential candidate in 2000. Lieberman publicly announced that he would not campaign or work on Shabbat. Instead, he explained that he uses the day to enter a, “sanctuary in my week which has become more important to me as I’ve gone on in life and become busier.”
Indeed for us all, our lives become busier as we mature and technology bombards us with information and communication. Shabbat is the only respite. Knowingly or otherwise, we feed our soul as we withdraw from the demands of regular work and finances and spend Friday night until Saturday night in peace.
“South Africa has shown that the Shabbos Project is a successful formula, but I suspect it is going to be more of a challenge applying it in the US. Here, we are more divided along denominational lines.”
Despite the complexities of reaching the vast LA Jewish community, now estimated to number more than 660,000, The Shabbos Project has reached Los Angeles. Many shuls, schools and organizations are participating in the Project and with shabbatonim planned throughout the city and large numbers of invitations are being dispersed for private Shabbat dinners. The weekend will start off with a massive city wide challah bake being encouraged by many shuls and organizations. Hundreds of women are expected to join, especially with the encouragement of their friends.
In order to participate officially in The Shabbos Project, you should visit the website, www.theshabbosproject.org and sign up. With a fabulous video on the front page, there are also endorsement videos on youtube from uber famous pop star, Paula Abdul and many wonderfully inspiring videos to watch. Alternatively, you can go to Eventbrite.com and sign up for the delightful CHALLAH BAKE LA, being held at several locations. There are community meals organized by Nessah Synagogue on South Rexford Dr. in Beverly Hills and a free-for-all Musical Havdalah program at Shaarei Tzaddekh in Valley Village, at 7pm. Westwood Kehilla will be hosting a delicious and inspirational community Friday night dinner at their Shul, located at 10523 Santa Monica Blvd.
The retired British chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, explains that Shabbat is when, “we stop rushing to make a living, and instead live and celebrate life. It remains a supreme example of holy time, an oasis of rest in an otherwise restless age.”
This is so; what will you do?