Musical shabbat services return to Tel Aviv, expand to Caesarea, Jerusalem

Beit Tefilah Israeli rabbi and co-founder Rabbi Esteban Gottfried announced this week that the Tel Aviv Port event will restart on Friday, July 1.

  Rabbi Esteban Gottfried with musicians at a recent Caesarea Kabbalat Shabbat, an event that is part of the Israeli Judaism grassroots movement. (photo credit: Lia Lahav)
Rabbi Esteban Gottfried with musicians at a recent Caesarea Kabbalat Shabbat, an event that is part of the Israeli Judaism grassroots movement.
(photo credit: Lia Lahav)

Marking 15 years of its increasingly popular seaside Shabbat services, Beit Tefilah Israeli (Israel House of Prayer), an innovative liberal egalitarian organization that is part of the growing Israeli Judaism movement, is bringing back its Tel Aviv Port Kabbalat Shabbat and adding new venues in Caesarea and Jerusalem’s Western Wall.

Beit Tefilah Israeli (Israel House of Prayer) shabbat services (credit: Beit Tefilah Israeli).

Beit Tefilah Israeli (BTI) rabbi and co-founder Rabbi Esteban Gottfried announced this week that the Tel Aviv Port event will restart on Friday, July 1, and will continue every Friday through August 26.

“Each Kabbalat Shabbat gathers secular, religious and traditional Israelis and Jews from [around] the world in a sacred space of prayer, poetry, music and dance."

Rabbi Esteban Gottfried

Expanding the services

For the first time this year, Gottfried also began leading a Kabbalat Shabbat at the Caesarea Port, on the site of an ancient synagogue. The next Caesarea event will take place on July 1 and will be held every two weeks through August 26. Gottfried also led a Kabbalat Shabbat service at the Western Wall’s egalitarian prayer section a week ago.

“Each Kabbalat Shabbat gathers secular, religious and traditional Israelis and Jews from [around] the world in a sacred space of prayer, poetry, music and dance,” Gottfried said. “The Tel Aviv Port Kabbalat Shabbat has grown so much that we decided to bring this joyful community to even more people this summer.”

Israeli Judaism

BTI is part of a growing movement in Israel called Israeli Judaism, with 200 similar communities sprouting up. It creates new spaces where Israelis can integrate and fulfill their authentic national and spiritual identities, Gottfried says.

Crowds at a recent Tel Aviv Port Kabbalat Shabbat, an event that is part of the Israeli Judaism grassroots movement.  (credit: OR GLICKMAN)Crowds at a recent Tel Aviv Port Kabbalat Shabbat, an event that is part of the Israeli Judaism grassroots movement. (credit: OR GLICKMAN)

Together with Rani Jaeger, Gottfried founded BTI in 2004 to offer creative, meaningful and relevant spiritual experiences in Israel’s public spaces to a wide range of Israelis, many of whom do not belong to religious communities or congregations.

Modeled on the pluralistic Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in New York City, Beit Tefilah Israeli slowly grew from just a few members to over 150 families, attracting 20,000 participants to its activities annually.

The seaside services started in 2007 – and almost by accident. Gottfried had hoped to hold a musical Shabbat service at a seaside Tel Aviv hotel, but the hotel declined, saying the use of electricity would endanger its religious permits.

Hotel after hotel continued to deny him, forcing Gottfried to hold the event outdoors at the Tel Aviv Port.The first beachside Kabbalat Shabbat drew in so many people that Gottfried continued the weekly gatherings.

The events became wildly popular, drawing 1,000 participants or more. BTI has occasionally held its services in other cities, including in Herzliya, Ramat Gan, Haifa, Beersheba, Ramle and Nof Hagalil; they have also held holiday gatherings at the Tel Aviv Port.

All the services start at 6:30 p.m. local time.