Tonight, thousands of observant and nonobservant families will join together to
share a Shabbat experience, which will hopefully begin a joint search for a
common language to address the Judaism that is our common
Shabbat Yisraelit, which is the name of this initiative
sponsored by Beit Hillel – Attentive Spiritual Leadership, seeks to underscore
the fact that Shabbat belongs to all Jews and that, rather than dividing them,
Shabbat can and should serve to build stronger bonds that will bring Jews closer
to one other.
That is the message that I learned from my parents growing
up in New York City in the 1940s and 1950s. I saw firsthand how my parents used
the Shabbat meal to maintain family ties and friendships and to stress
This is the message that my wife and I have sought to
impart to our children and grandchildren.
My parents understood the
unifying power of Shabbat. In the first instance, it kept our immediate family
Shabbat was a day for catching up on the past week’s events and
especially what my sister and I had learned that week in day school.
all went our different ways during the week, but on Shabbat the family came
together around the Shabbat table.
Shabbat also kept the links open
between our immediate family and our relatives and friends, most of whom were
not observant. My parents would invite them for a Shabbat meal and they would
For many of our family members and guests, this was their
only Jewish experience. The conversation around our table was nonjudgmental and
emphasized what bound us.
The Shabbat table was the great
Finally, Shabbat helped expand our circle of
Living in the middle of Manhattan, my father was always bringing
home strangers that he would inevitably find at Shabbat services.
parents maintained close ties with many of these “guests”– some of whom were
young Israelis who had come to New York to complete their advanced degrees – who
had first come unannounced for a Shabbat meal.
It is because of the
importance that we attach to the unifying role of Shabbat that our family has
sponsored for a number of years “Shabbat Across Maryland” (SHABAM), organized by
the Hillel at the University of Maryland.
The goal of the initiative,
which provides a Shabbat experience to over 1,000 students in over 100 locations
around the sprawling campus, is to create a warm, intimate Shabbat experience,
however defined. And that is just right.
So, too, do we support Shabbat
Yisraelit and other Beit Hillel initiatives here in Israel that emphasize what
brings us together rather than what tears us apart.
observation that “more than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept
the Jews” continues to be as relevant today – here in Israel – as it was in the
Diaspora of his day.
Jacques J. Gorlin is a member of the board of
directors of Beit Hillel – Attentive Spiritual Leadership and resides in