Annual Shabbat Project kicks off with one million Jews worldwide

The Shabbat Project, led by South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, is a global, grassroots movement that unites Jews around the magic of Shabbat.

 The Shabbat Project (photo credit: JASON CROUSE)
The Shabbat Project
(photo credit: JASON CROUSE)

Over 2,500 Shabbat Project events – more than double the number in 2021 – will take place this year on and around the upcoming Saturday, November 11-12, 2022 in Jewish communities across the globe.

From Australia to Israel, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Spain, the United Kingdom, Morocco and Monaco, to the United States, Canada, Argentina, Guatemala and Chile, more than one million people across the globe will be part of the 10th-anniversary festivities for the Shabbat Project.

The Shabbat Project, led by South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, is a global, grassroots movement that unites Jews around the magic of Shabbat.

“The Shabbat Project is bringing Jews together around the world. This year’s Shabbat Project is happening shortly after very divisive elections in Israel and the United States, and this is an opportunity to harness the healing power of Shabbat to unify and inspire Jewish communities. In times of rising antisemitism, we need to define ourselves by our values and not by the hatred of others,” Goldstein said.

“Through the Shabbat Project, we can create a new Jewish future based on Jewish pride, unity, and values, transcending the barriers that seem to separate us. This is an opportunity to rejuvenate family life, strengthen Jewish unity throughout the world, and restore Jewish pride and identity,” he added.

 The Shabbat Project (credit: JASON CROUSE) The Shabbat Project (credit: JASON CROUSE)

In Israel alone, more than 250,000 people are expected to participate, thanks to an astonishingly coordinated effort by local municipalities, innovative NGOs and nonprofits, the Education Ministry and Jewish youth movements in more than 100 cities.

Activities are taking place in schools, synagogues and city centers.

Shabbat Project to host over a million Jews

In Europe, Jewish refugees from Ukraine will attend a Shabbat dinner in Strasbourg, France, with hundreds of participants expected. In general, the Shabbat Project in France is focused on youth, with Shabbatons for students and young professionals, and events dedicated to teenagers, happening across the country.

“When we announced the Shabbat Project in 2013 in South Africa, there was never an intention to turn this into a global project,” Goldstein told The Jerusalem Post in an interview from his home in South Africa. “I remember there was a lot of skepticism at the time, people said, ‘this can’t work, people keeping an entire Shabbat?’ a whole community, most of whom don’t keep Shabbat.”

“Because we live in a small world so people started to hear about it outside of South Africa. There were a lot of pop stars and comedians just posting videos of themselves saying, ‘I’m doing it, I’m keeping Shabbat,’ on social media. But then there were just people naturally, who came and said, listen, ‘I’m doing it.’ It was like the people’s movement endorsement. And then because all of this was on social media, then people around the world started noticing. Something special and magical happened.”

Goldstein said that he started getting hundreds of emails from all over the world. “People were asking me if they can also have a Shabbat project in their countries,” he recalled. “We had to make a decision; are we going to actually go with this wave? It was my wife at the time who said, ‘There should be one Shabbat Project, not have any community decide when they wanted to do it.’”

Goldstein and his wife, Gina, recorded a video in which they described what happened in South Africa during that magical Shabbat. “We said to the world: come join us this year,” Goldstein recalled. “This wave of emails started coming in. Volunteers sprung up all over the world and in a short space of time, we had more than 400 communities and more than 400 cities [doing it.] It just grew and grew.”

THE SHABBAT PROJECT stood out in that “there are no regional managers and you don’t have to get accreditation in order to participate. It’s very much a people’s movement,” Goldstein said.

“I think it’s something which is so beautiful, and it’s built on this founding philosophy that Shabbat belongs to all Jews. So we want people to take it and we want people to run with it,” he said.

The Jewish community in Buenos Aires is expected to host a mass outdoor challah bake in a park for around 3,000 women. Other Shabbat Project events are happening in Córdoba, Argentina, Guatemala, and Chile. In South Africa, a new, ambitious initiative – the Journey to 25 hours – is empowering Jewish families to keep Shabbat throughout the year.

New countries joining the project this year include Tahiti and Morocco.

Hundreds of communities in North America are also participating in The Shabbat Project. In San Diego, 180 organizations are coordinating events for the community, including one at a local farm. The Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Los Angeles is running 10 events for children and their families, including a block party Kabbalat Shabbat service on the street and a Shabbat lunch in the school gym, while religious and secular families will pair up for Shabbat dinner.

Portland, Maine will be participating in the Project for the first time, with a challah bake at the local JCC.

Asked where he would like to see the project in 10 years’ time, Goldstein said, “I hope that the Shabbat Project becomes something that is celebrated every week of the year, not just annually. I’d love for the annual Shabbat event to be something that inspires us during the week.”

“Shabbat is a divine gift – it improves our quality of life, transforms our families and relationships, and has the power to bring Jews together as nothing else can,” said Goldstein, whose new book about Shabbat, A Day to Create Yourself, will be released shortly after the project.

He explained that his new book “is partly about taking that joy and inspiration of Shabbat with us every week and it’s one element of what I’m hoping to unveil in the next number of months, a sense of where we’re headed with this and how this can actually be a transformative process for the Jewish world in making Shabbat a reality on a weekly basis.”