The number of cities expected to join in this week’s annual global Shabbat is approaching 1,000, and organizers expect it to surpass that number.
This is the third year of the Shabbat Project since it launched in 2014, and the number of participants has grown exponentially from year to year, with an estimated one million having taken part last year in 919 cities and 84 countries across the globe.
This year, 57 new cities have committed to take part, from Lodz in Poland, to Hoorn in the Netherlands, Alphaville in Brazil and Hollywood, USA.
The tag line of this year’s Shabbat Project is “Shabbat can do that.”
“In 2014 and again in 2015, through the transformative power of Shabbat, we’ve seen individuals and communities accomplish great things; things that before were not thought possible,” explains the brains behind the initiative, South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein. “We’ve seen walls torn down, families rejuvenated, deep feelings awakened, deep friendships formed. This is what Shabbat can do,” he adds.
This year, the Shabbat Project team seeks to push past the one million mark. “More and more people are joining what’s become a huge worldwide social movement,” Goldstein remarks.
Referencing heightened tensions in the US in light of the presidential elections, the rabbi says, “While an extreme rift was formed in American society over this past year, it is obvious that the entire world would benefit from the sacred, safe and nurturing space created by Shabbat, which has inspired and unified Jewish communities throughout the ages and across continents.”
In Israel, Tel Aviv is the epicenter of the Shabbat Project, having broken the record for the world’s largest Shabbat in the project’s first year in 2014.
Now, with more than 20 events scheduled around the city, it has tripled in size since last year.
Events in the cultural capital will include a halla bake at Tel Aviv’s port for some 500 women, a giant Shabbat dinner for some 1,500 people at the same location and a musical havdala service at Brodt Center.
Jay Shultz, founder of the White City Shabbat NGO, which acts as the umbrella organization for the Shabbat Project, notes that the event has brought together some 30 organizations and synagogue congregations. “I think that’s also what’s making this unique,” he told The Jerusalem Post
“This is really us rallying together, which makes it that much more powerful... having that strength of unity and that being the main banner that we are shining, not just throughout Tel Aviv and Israel but around the Jewish world, makes this extra special,” he says. Shultz also emphasizes that they have received a lot interest from Israelis from all around the country, not just Tel Aviv, and not just tourists or olim.
For White City Shabbat co-director Deborah Danan, this year’s event takes on a more personal meaning. “I’ve been in the throes of organizing this for a while now, and then sadly my father-in-law passed away last week,” she tells the Post
“At first, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to attend the meal at all, but my husband encouraged me to go and dedicate it to the memory of his father, R’ Yosef Dahan,” she adds. “Yosef was tremendously proud of all the work we are doing towards strengthening Jewish life in Tel Aviv so it seems like an appropriate way of honoring him.”
Meanwhile, Cancun, a city which has also been involved since the outset of the project, is preparing for a more modest gathering of some 50 people.
That Mexican Jewish community comprises some 40 families, and the global Shabbat is a highlight of the year for them.
Shabbat Project partner Yohana Alvarado told the Post that while some members of the Jewish community don’t observe Yom Kippur, they will observe Shabbat in the framework of the Shabbat Project.
“Every year we wait for it,” she says. “I think people are excited to take part in something global – I think that’s what makes it special.”
On Thursday night, simultaneous events will take place for men and women. As the latter take part in a global Halla Bake, the former will attend a special class led by a Kabbalistic rabbi from Israel.
Across the ocean, the UK expects the majority of the country’s 269,000 Jews to take part in the event. In an article in The Times newspaper, UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis encouraged employers throughout the country to allow Jewish staff to go home early on Friday in order to observe Shabbat.
London buses throughout the capital have been decked out in banners advertising the event, and a special “ShabbatUK” double-decker bus has been touring the country to raise awareness.
“ShabbatUK 2016 gives us an opportunity to celebrate our faith and enables us to share experiences with our friends, families and communities,” said Mirvis.