Overwhelming response to Shabbos Project in SA as global event triples

In South Africa and worldwide, the Shabbos Project remains a key date on the Jewish calendar, bringing together Jews of
all backgrounds in a spirit of joy and unity, and in celebration of Shabbat.

Here in South Africa, the Great Big Challah Bake in Cape Town kicked off the celebrations, with more than 800 women of all levels of observance joining together from across the community at the Herzlia Weizmann campus.

That energy spilled over into the Johannesburg challah bake later in the week, with around 5000 women attending the event on the rooftop of the Norwood Mall.

Over the Shabbos itself, Cape Town’s shuls ran full programmes including communal dinners, lunches, learning programmes and musical havdalahs, with Sinai Indaba international speaker Nili Couzens delivering inspirational talks at a number of Sea Point shuls.

“I was at the Cape Town challah bake, and there was such an incredible energy and excitement the joyfulness was infectious,” says Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, who founded the project in 2013.

“In the aftermath, I’ve had enthused calls from Cape Town rabbis and community members telling me about the events at their shuls, and numbers of people involved. This is our tenth Shabbos Project as a community and it’s heartwarming to see the ideals of Jewish unity and reconnecting to Shabbos remain as compelling as ever.”

This year also saw the launch of Shabbos Project 2.0 the “Journey to 25 hours” empowering Jewish families to take incremental steps to keep Shabbos throughout the year. To date, around 400 families have signed up.

“I’m overwhelmed by all the people who are embarking on the Journey to 25 hours through the “8 steps” of the day; who are going on this adventure to bring more Shabbos into their lives, step by step, week by week.”

Across the globe, the Shabbos Project tripled in size, with a record 3, 711 citywide unity events held in more than 1,500 cities across the globe – up from last year’s previous high of 1,175 events.

Israel was this year’s big success story, especially after bitterly divisive elections: more than 100 municipalities ran Shabbos Project programmes, partnering with NGOs and volunteers to host more than 1,400 community-wide events.

Across the country, an estimated 250,000 participants were involved in Shabbos Project events ranging from challah bakes, communal Shabbos meals and musical Kabbalat Shabbos services, to parades, havdalah concerts and pre-Shabbos educational activities in thousands of secular government schools.

The project was driven by an astonishing coordinated effort across Israeli civil society a diverse coalition bringing together local municipalities, innovative NGOs, Israel’s Ministry of Education and Jewish youth movements helping to bridge the stark political and religious divides in Israeli society.  

The US, too, was a hive of activity with over 1,200 unity events taking place across the country. 

In San Diego, 180 diverse Jewish organisations coordinated events for the entire Jewish community, including learning programmes, challah bakes, food demonstrations and full Shabbatons.

In Los Angeles, the Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy hosted a block party and Kabbalat Shabbos service in the streets along with a Shabbos lunch in the school gym while religious and secular families paired up for Shabbos dinner.  

And in Arizona, women decorated their own challah boards and made challah at a vibrant “Zumba challah bake”; lit Shabbos candles and joined together for a celebratory Friday night dinner; and capped off Shabbos with “interstellar havdalah experience” at a local planetarium.

Elsewhere in the US, Project Inspire’s annual “Body and Soul Retreat” in New Jersey involved more than 500 Jews from all over the United States, Canada and Israel; a challah bake in Palo Alto brought together 17 different local Jewish organizations and schools; Fort Lauderdale hosted a havdalah concert on the beach; Aish ran a full Shabbaton for young professionals in Denver; and North Carolina ran a “Shabbos Challenge”, encouraging participants to take on an aspect of Shabbos observance. 

In France, the focus was on youth. French events also outpaced previous years, with 557 events happening in 11 countries, up from 363 in 2021. Shabbatons were organised at university campuses in cities across the country. Also popular was the “La Semaine du Chabbat Mondial” – a full week of Shabbos-themed interactive learning experiences held in the lead-up to the project, for people of all ages and levels of Jewish knowledge/observance.

One of this year’s most moving stories comes from Strasbourg, France, where twenty young Jewish refugees from Ukraine attended a Shabbos dinner along with hundreds of local youth. 

In South America, Buenos Aires hosted a mass outdoor challah bake in a park for around 3,000 women. And in Santiago, Chile, hundreds of participants hosted their own “Shabbos table” at a local synagogue, inviting family and friends to join them.

Other global highlights included a festive Kabbalat Shabbos for parents and children at a school in Brisbane, Australia; a challah bake to raise funds for community members in need in Lisbon, Portugal; a community Shabbos dinner in Oita, Japan; and a Shabbaton in Lagos, Nigeria.

New countries joining the project this year included Tahiti and Morocco, with events taking place in Casablanca in the build-up to Shabbos, culminating in a community-wide Shabbos lunch. 

“We’ve witnessed an outpouring of emotion across the Jewish world, as Jews from all walks of life have embraced the Shabbos Project – a sublime moment of Jewish unity centered on Shabbos,” says Rabbi Goldstein. 

“In the face of rising anti-Semitism and general global uncertainty, the response to the Shabbos Project is a powerful declaration of a positive Jewish identity; a proud refusal to be defined by hatred of others, but rather by the Divine values that give us inspiration and purpose, and that have held our people together.”

Photos: Emma Levin Photography

• Published in the December 2022/January 2023 Digital Edition – Click here to read it.

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