Not your bubby’s day of rest

The Jewish Unity Project transforms the shuk into a Shabbat venue to remember

Shukshabbat, Art by Solomon Souza (photo credit: ART BY SOLOMON SOUZA)
Shukshabbat, Art by Solomon Souza
(photo credit: ART BY SOLOMON SOUZA)
Shabbat is typically highlighted by meals with family and friends. But when the Jewish Unity Project does Shabbat, family and friends means hundreds or even thousands of people.
The idea to host a large and inclusive community Shabbat meal began three years ago.
Jewish Unity Project founder Yitzchok Meir Malek says, “Some friends of mine in Nahlaot all had the same idea at the same time. It was very exciting, and we pulled it off. We had about 500 people for the first meal from both sides of the tracks.”
That first meal was done potluck style on the Jaffa Road light rail tracks. For the second annual Shabbat meal last year, the number of attendees spiked to roughly 1,000.
Malek adds, “That first year, because we had a smaller quantity, you could say that we had a more controllable quality. There was one point where all 500 of us got together and made a big circle. We held hands and sang songs and prayers about peace for our family and the whole world. Last year, because of the quantity, it was uncontrollable. But there was something beautiful about that too because I learned that you don’t have to control the crowd, you can let things have a natural flow.”
The contrast of the first two years – focused versus varied camaraderie – speaks to the heart of the Jerusalem Unity Project and its choice to host communal Shabbat meals. Participants come from all walks of life and all religious backgrounds, gathering together in the spirit of Shabbat.
The decision to have the Shabbat meal just before Purim is a deliberate one, as Purim is a holiday that evokes unity and joy.
Malek says, “We don’t necessarily all agree all the time, but we’re still together. All 1,000 people aren’t eating at the same table, but they’re part of the same idea. Then Purim comes, and we’re really sharing each other’s food. I send you my food, you send me yours.”
This year, the Jewish Unity Project’s communal Shabbat meal is going to the next level with what they’re calling Shuk Shabbat. Instead of just a potluck lunch, there will be both evening and daytime meals. Dinner will be catered by Beer Bazaar and will be held in Mahaneh Yehuda, complete with tables, chairs and lavish decorations.
Avi Moskowitz, owner of Beer Bazaar, says, “Jerusalem is still suffering from trauma; people from both outside the country and inside are afraid to come to Jerusalem. The shuk in particular is a place that people are staying away from. But we’ve been really fortunate since we opened a few months ago; we’ve seen great energy. The shuk represents authentic Israel. From that perspective, Shuk Shabbat gives you a real experience of the shuk, which is difficult to have because it’s usually lifeless on Shabbat. We’re excited about seeing the shuk alive seven days a week.”
Shuk Shabbat lunch will be held on the Jaffa Road light rail tracks as it has in years past. But this year, the kiddush will be sponsored by another new and burgeoning Jerusalem small business, Burrito Chai.
Owner Missy Witt says, “I feel very honored to be a part of this. We’re trying to expand our catering business, so this will help get the word out. We’ve been open for about a month now, so we’re spreading the word any way we can. I think it’s amazing that the Jewish Unity Project is supporting small businesses. The concept is great; spreading the light of Shabbos in a fun and holy way.”
The shuk has become the epicenter of cool Jerusalem nightlife during the week but also has a very rough quality. It’s not upscale or particularly welcoming; it dares you to enter. The fact that this will be the location for the Jewish Unity Project’s Shabbat dinner exemplifies the idea of contrast.
Malek says, “On Shabbos, we want to bring out the combination of grimy and fancy together. Peace comes from opposites coming together: dark and light.”
Events like this naturally reflect the Jewish Unity Project’s mission of inclusion. Upon closer inspection, the Nahlaot community where Malek used to live and where the Jewish Unity Project was born is the perfect embodiment. Nahlaot comprises people of common interests in art, creative self-expression and colorful spirituality, but political and religious views run the gamut.
Malek emphasizes, “We’re a really good example for Am Yisrael. We’re a microcosm. I truly believe that Am Yisrael can be that microcosm for the entire world. We’ve got a great marketing team in every news agency; they’re constantly broadcasting what we do for the good and for the bad. Since there’s a magnifying glass on us, we can show the entire world that you don’t have to agree in order to love. That’s really the goal. This year, prepare for Woodstock.”
For more information on Shuk Shabbat or to purchase tickets: