Girls in miniskirts and high heels; rabbis in black hats and white shirts; the revelry of the Gay Pride Parade in the background – this is Friday night in Tel Aviv and a Shabbat for the record books.
Exactly 2,226 people gathered at Hangar 11 at the Tel Aviv Port to participate in the record-making largest Shabbat meal ever, organized by White City Shabbat, the Tel Aviv-based NGO that organizes public shabbat meals once a month at the Goren Synagogue on Modigliani Street, as well as other events geared toward the English-speaking and immigrant community that include holiday learning classes, hallah baking classes, and religious lectures. Sponsors of the Guinness event included the Tel Aviv Municipality and Chabad.
White City Shabbat is as popular for its monthly Shabbats, as Tel Aviv is notorious for secularism.
“One of the reasons we started White City Shabbat is because Shabbat doesn’t need to be in the domain of the religious,” co-founder Deborah Danan said at the start of the event. “For those that don’t have family here, White City has become an alternative family.”
Hebrew, English, Russian, French, Spanish – these are just a sampling of some of the languages you’ll hear at a White City event. Going strong for the last three years, events attract young, professional immigrants who are trying to find a place to meet like-minded people.
“We have people coming straight from the pride parade, old, young, singles, families – it’s a cross section of Jews in Israel and all over the world,” Danan said.
For the Guinness world record event, it took three months of preparation, 60 days of crowdsource fundraising, and the culmination is 600 bottles of wine from sponsor Golan Heights Winery, 74 bottles of vodka, 1,800 pieces of chicken, 1,000 pieces of meat and 250 vegetarian options.
There were 2,000 people who signed up, with hundreds more having signed up for a waiting list. Notable attendees are Alan Dershowitz, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Meir Lau, and former ambassador to the US Michael Oren.
Basketball Legend Tal Brody, who is a friend and regular attendee of Tel Aviv international events, as well as one of the organizers, said he’s happy to support such an initiative.
“I think they are doing a great job for olim hadashim [new immigrants] and the Israeli community...All the sects of the Jewish religion can get together under one roof and have a Kabalat Shabbat [Reception of the Shabbat]. I think it’s going to be beautiful.”
Attendants praise the Shabbat meals for its raucous and fun atmosphere.
“This is going to be like a normal White City event, except times a million.”
An hour before Shabbat comes in, in Tel Aviv a concert is in full swing, men are wrapping tefilin at the entrance and the masses are arriving.
Organizers have said they never saw a problem with meeting the Guinness standards of having over 1,000 people attend the event. At 1,900 attendees, the meal was sold out two weeks early. An Oneg Shabbat [informal Friday night gathering] took place for anyone wishing to join in the simple revelry.
Flying in from London, a Guinness World Record adjudicator monitored the meal to ensure it adhered to a strict set of criteria within Orthodox law and then meets standards set by Guinness to be a world record. All attendees sat for an official headcount and the event was timed beginning after hamotzi (the blessing for bread), leaving ample time for a long and raucous kiddush (blessings on the wine and the sanctification of the day). Following that, the food needed to be served within five minutes and the meal needed to last an hour.
Praven Patel, the Guinness adjudicator, in his first visit to Israel and his first Shabbat meal, made sure the dinner adhered to all Guinness guidelines.
Working with a team of volunteers, after everyone sat down, the blessing is given and the meal is served, the headcount must reach over 1,000 to be a record.
“It looks very well organized and I look forward to see how the record is set,” he said.
Patel, from London, has worked for Guinness for the past two years and has judged a variety of events, from items of unusual size to the largest first aid course demonstration.
Patel said this event is unusual and exciting and was looking forward to seeing the number of people that attend. “It’s new to me.”