Cape Town celebrates the Shabbos Project

Talia Zolty with her Shabbox

A ‘unity walk’ in Sea Point was the highlight of this year’s Shabbos Project celebrations in Cape Town.

The event saw hundreds of people from the area’s five shuls walk together along the Sea Point promenade in what one of the organisers, Marais Road shul’s Rabbi Hecht, described as a “Jewish pride march”.

But there were no banners or chants – just young Jewish families enjoying the spring air, the sea breeze and each other’s company on a peaceful Shabbos afternoon.

The event was a joint initiative of the Morasha, Ohr Somayach, Chabad, Sephardi and Marais Road shuls. The walk culminated at the Herzlia Weizmann campus, where a picnic was spread out on the lawns, and the kids enjoyed a football tournament, chess and other games and activities.

“This was a timely reminder of the strength and vibrancy of our wonderful Cape Town Jewish community, and of the amazing communal unity that prevails,” Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein said. “Capetonians coming together across the spectrum, across the different shuls, under the banner of Shabbat and in a spirit of unity and celebration, is so inspiring.”

Members of the different shuls shared personal reflections on the parsha and on Shabbos, and there was also a parsha quiz. Song and laughter filled the air, a welcome respite after an almost two-year absence of such celebrations.

Rabbi Levi Popack with his daughter, Batsheva, setting up before Shabbos

The other big SA initiative this year was the Shabbox — a special gift box, distributed through the Jewish day schools, designed to help young Jewish families experience the joy of sharing Shabbos together as a family.

The Shabbox included Shabbos recipes and menus, fun educational resources and activities, personalised ‘blessing cards’, a parsha quiz and exciting games to play around the Shabbos table. The Chief Rabbi held interactive Zoom workshops on the Shabbox with learners from Herzlia Highlands and Weizmann, Phyllis Jowell and the Sinai Academy.

All across the world, this year’s Shabbos Project not only returned to pre-COVID levels of involvement, but surpassed all previous years, with 1163 citywide events and thousands of home-based events held in more than 1500 cities.

Participants returned in droves to mass Shabbos dinners and lunches, Shabbatons, challah bakes, Havdalah concerts and other in-person events.

“I am moved by the resilience and boldness of our thousands of partners and volunteers around the world whose efforts led to record participation amid the headwinds of the aftermath of the pandemic,” said Chief Rabbi Goldstein. “The joy of Shabbos and the power of Jewish unity triumphed thanks to their heroic work. It gives us all hope for the future.”

And it all started here in South Africa. “We, the South African Jewish community, showed the world how to ‘keep it together’,” said Chief Rabbi Goldstein. “We inspired the world.”

The Shabbos Project drew record-high participation despite many cities being unable to take part due to COVID-19 restrictions. Israel alone had over 200 events. In Eilat, open-invitation Shabbos dinners took place at four central locations, while in Tel Aviv, a citywide Shabbos dinner organised by White City Shabbat was held on the beachfront. The Ascent centre in Safed hosted 25 events, among them a rooftop Kabbalat Shabbat and a Shabbos-themed transcendental meditation workshop. In Ashkelon, a three-day ‘Dancing on the Water’ event for women featured pre- and post-Shabbos dance parties with DJ Dali. Residents of Raanana, Herzliya and Kfar Saba provided homemade Shabbos meals to Magen David Adom first responders.

The US too, was highly active. In Phoenix, an artisanal challah-bake and chavruta (partner) learning programme drew 300 women, while 40 local families signed up for a ‘12-week Shabbos challenge’. In Long Beach, California, a partner community which only heard about The Shabbos Project two weeks beforehand, arranged seven citywide events, among them an initiative supporting ‘first-timers’ to host their own Shabbos dinner for friends and neighbours. In Cherry Hill, New Jersey, residents of Weinberg Commons, a facility for adults with special needs, enjoyed a joyous Kabbalat Shabbat followed by a five-star dinner. A school in Lawrence, New York, rolled out a Shabbos Project-themed curriculum in the weeks leading up to the project, culminating in a challah-bake on a football field for 300 school families and a Zoom family Havdalah concert. San Diego held a full day of Jewish learning with hundreds of people of all levels of observance, and the Women’s Philanthropy arm of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) held an online challah-bake for its 148 Federations and 300 network communities.

In Europe, Olami France coordinated a full Shabbos experience for French-speaking students on college campuses in Toulouse, Aix-en-Provence, Paris, Madrid and Porto. After a Havdalah concert in Vienna, commemorative balloons were released into the night sky. And in Birmingham, UK, four organisations serving different constituencies — Aish UK, Chabad, Jsoc and the University of Birmingham Chaplaincy — joined forces for a student challah-bake.

In Chile and Panama, 2000 women took part in scores of challah-bakes held in private homes and connected via Zoom. In Mexico City, a gift box containing grape juice, challah and salads was given to those committing to keep Shabbos for the first time. Cali, Colombia, organised a week-long programme, including a flower workshop for women, cocktail class for men and a Thursday night pizza bake, followed by a community-wide Shabbaton. And in Guatemala, the country’s main synagogue reopened its doors for Shabbos services after a two-year hiatus.

Among scores of new global initiatives was the ‘Pick a Mitzvah’ campaign. Introduced in Panama, this year it spread to 25 countries, with more than 17000 people committing to keep one aspect of Shabbos. For the ‘Challah Challenge’, Israelis of all backgrounds posted creative challah recipes on Instagram and challenged friends to do the same, while a diverse group of Israeli influencers — foodies, journalists and lifestyle bloggers, some with more than one million followers — posted in support of the campaign.

Meanwhile, Beit Issie Shapiro — an Israeli pioneer in services and advocacy for people with disabilities — launched an accessible Shabbos-themed digital platform to help children across the globe learn about Shabbos in an engaging and exciting way. And Zehud, which provides online Jewish education to children in isolated Jewish communities across Europe, hosted a Zoom challah-bake for families from all 57 regions where it is active.

Finally, the #DisconnectConnect TikTok campaign, launched last week and now running throughout the year, is gaining traction as TikTokkers express their own unique appreciation for Shabbos.

For the Chief Rabbi, the worldwide success of the project is a testament to the strength of the South African Jewish community.
“So many people around the world have said to me that The Shabbos Project could only have been born in South Africa,” says Rabbi Goldstein. “Eight years ago, nobody thought it possible for Jews of all backgrounds to unite across our differences and keep a full Shabbos — until we, the South African Jewish community, showed everyone that it was.”

He says there is so much that is ‘unique and admired’ about the community.

“There’s our unity and inclusivity — the mutual respect and bonds of friendship that cut across religious and other differences. There’s our fierce dedication to our Jewish heritage and Jewish values. There’s our close-knit families; our tenacity and can-do spirit; our creativity and boundless optimism.

“These are the reasons why The Shabbos Project took root in South Africa — and has since spread across the globe.”

• Published in the PDF edition of the November 2021 issue – Click here to get it.

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