Shabbat Project 2015

Jews in more than 550 cities gear up for a Shabbat that organizers say could eclipse last year’s event.

AROUND 2,400 women gather in an inner-Sydney warehouse for a mass bake-off to prepare halla for the past year’s Shabbat Project. The event brought together mothers and daughters, friends and neighbors, both observant and non-observant, in a show of unity and Jewish pride. (photo credit: THE SHABBAT PROJECT)
AROUND 2,400 women gather in an inner-Sydney warehouse for a mass bake-off to prepare halla for the past year’s Shabbat Project. The event brought together mothers and daughters, friends and neighbors, both observant and non-observant, in a show of unity and Jewish pride.
(photo credit: THE SHABBAT PROJECT)
Last year, around 1 million people in 465 cities and 64 countries took part in the Shabbat Project – an international grassroots movement that aims to unite Jews from across the globe, of various levels of observance, to keep one full Shabbat. This year, that number looks set to rise, with more than 5,000 dedicated partners (up from 1,800 in 2014), coordinating the initiative in 550 cities worldwide.
“Last year, in just a matter of months, a social movement sprung up: religious, communal and organizational leaders, but mainly just passionate individuals, eager to lend a hand in whichever way they can – a true ‘movement of the people,’” says South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Dr.
Warren Goldstein, the founder of the Shabbat Project.
“This year, once again, we’ve seen partners pour forward – this time in their thousands – to take ownership of the initiative and bring it to life.”
Among the new exotic locations being pinned to the Jewish Map in 2015 are Maui, Hawaii; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Srirangapatna, India; and Puerto Iguazú, Argentina.
Jews in these and other locations around the world unaccustomed to Shabbat observance, have access to a key resource – a one-page “A-Z Map” designed to give first-timers all the information they need to keep a Shabbat.
Israel is one of the big stories this year, with the Jewish state primed to take its place as the global hub of the Shabbat Project In Tel Aviv, 2,000 women are expected to attend a halla bake at Hatahana, who will be joined by 400 from all over the world on the JWRP (Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project) trip. The “cross-continental” event will be livestreamed with Johannesburg’s Great Big Indoor Halla Bake. Rachelle Fraenkel, the courageous mother of Naftali, who was kidnapped and murdered along with two other teens in 2014, will be presiding over an emotionally charged halla bake at the First Station in Jerusalem.
Tanya Greenberg, lead Shabbat Project coordinator in Israel, says phones at the international call center are “ringing off the hook” with individuals looking to get involved. People like Arad Eylon Fruchter, for example, who has invited the whole of Tel Aviv to his bar mitzva this Shabbat. In an arguably even more ambitious move, the 12-year-old Fruchter has extended a personal invite to Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz of the Beastie Boys. (His invitation is a shot-for-shot reimagining of the band’s classic “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)” music video.) Municipalities throughout Israel have got behind the Shabbat Project – Ashkelon for example, which will be hosting 14 events across the city, and whose mayor is personally driving the initiative is providing free billboard space and dedicated city resources.
The US is a similar hive of activity. After the extraordinary impact of the Shabbat Project last year in Miami, San Diego, Dallas and scores of cities across the country, this year is seeing the major Jewish metropolises of New York City and Los Angeles come to the fore.
LA will be hosting a Friday night Shabbat dinner billed as one of the biggest in history. The organizers will be closing down Pico Boulevard to accommodate the more than 3,000 people expected to attend.
Brooklyn is attempting to set a new Guinness World Record for the world’s largest braided halla. The 20-foot (6-m.) halla is to be baked in an industrial size state-ofthe- art oven at Damascus Bakery, whose owner Edward Mafoud (an Arab-Christian American), is reengineering his oven to fit the behemoth bread, and offering his services at no charge. The finished product will be paraded through Brooklyn on a flatbed truck, and later that evening, 2,000 women at the city’s halla bake will each add their own dough to the “Halla of Unity.” It will then be served up at a communal dinner in the city on Friday night.
Baltimore, meanwhile, is gearing up for a halla bake at the Maryland State Fairgrounds at which 4,500 people are expected. The organizers have secured 6,750 pounds (3062 kg.) of flour, 1,575 pounds (714 kg.) of sugar, 730 pounds (331 kg.) of vegetable oil, 750 dozen eggs, 11 pounds (5 kg.) of salt, 4,500 packs of yeast and 450 gallons (1703 liters) of water for the occasion.
Columbus is another exploring new frontiers. Under the theme, “614 Shabbat: One Shabbat for All Columbus,” 30 central Ohio synagogues and Jewish organizations of all denominations are joining together for an historic unity Shabbat.
In Bergen County, New Jersey, a halla bake at the Rockleigh Country Club is expected to attract 1,000 women.
Event organizer Esther Friedman said she is working with “an amazing crew of volunteers from all over the county with different religious backgrounds.”
Funds raised from the bake will be used to build a shelter for abused women in Israel.
Staying in North America, around 50 shuls in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) – numerous Reform and Conservative institutions among them – are involved in the Shabbat Project. Main events include a citywide “Cholent Cook-Off”; a halla bake at the Scarborough Convention Center (2,500 participants, 1,000 on the waiting list); and havdala concerts at various locations throughout the GTA .
Mexico is leading the charge in Central America. Event organizers will be distributing more than 13,000 Shabbat Project wristbands at schools and Jewish institutions across the country. Branded boutique pink chairs (with the slogan “pull up a chair”) are also being strategically placed across the capital city. Two separate halla bakes will cater for around 2,500 people, and more than 3,000 are expected at a closing havdala concert, featuring the Maccabeats. Panama, meanwhile, has unveiled a colorful matchbox campaign to encourage Jewish women across the country to light Shabbat candles.
In South America, Buenos Aires will once again be one of the biggest Shabbat Project participating cities in the world. Between 3,000 and 4,000 women are expected at the Buenos Aires halla bake, and the local organizing team are also hoping to match the record 13,000 people that showed up for last year’s havdala concert. And in Santiago, Chile, event organizers are gearing up for 3,000 participants at a havdala concert under the stars that will feature a local children’s choir.
Moving to Europe: French Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia has rallied every rabbi in France to take part in the Shabbat Project, with a gala halla bake to take place at the Élysée Palace under the supervision of the chef Régis Ferey (chief pastry chef to the French president). Amsterdam is coordinating a mass “homestay” campaign, with people from cities across Holland descending on the country’s capital where they will be hosted by local families. Mogilev in Belarus will once again be hosting scores of families from the surrounding remote villages (with little to no Jewish infrastructure) for a Jewish identity Shabbaton. The villagers will be put up at local bed and breakfast, and will be taken on walking tours of a city rich in Jewish history.
And at great personal risk, Istanbul’s Jewish community will be gathering together for a full Shabbat program, including meals and services. Because of the threat of anti-Semitism, there have been no street ads or public marketing of any kind, and local organizers have had to rely on word of mouth and social media.
In the UK, London’s Pinner shul will be distributing a Shabbat Project “Pinner care package,” consisting of food, candles and grape juice, to elderly and ill community members. And a synagogue in Manchester is holding a “unity lunch” with non-observant members joining Belz hassidim at their houses.
Then there’s the group of astonishingly cool kids from Brodetsky Jewish elementary school in Leeds, who have been crowned winners of the UK’s “Kosher Rap Competition.”
As the producer of their music video commented, “Kanye [West] better be serious about leaving hip-hop and running for US president because these kids make him look average.”
Overall, an estimated 9,000 men, women and children will be participating in halla bakes across the UK. For the main event in north-west London, Over 13 tons of flour and 9,000 eggs have been ordered.
“It is going to be huge this year compared to last,” said event co-chairwoman Dalia Cramer. “The key is to get people together – it’s a beautiful thing and a chance to be proud of who we are. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
In Melbourne, much of the focus has been on getting the city’s youth involved. Some 700 kids showed up at a recent children’s halla bake at the Chadstone Shopping Center, which included cooking demos led by Australia MasterChef, Alice in Frames. And every Jewish elementary school kid in Melbourne will be receiving a Shabbat Project-themed halla board as well as a special halla cover that they will be decorating in honor of the day.
The community has so far distributed thousands of Shabbat Project “Pull up a chair” kits, which include matches, napkins, candles, grape juice and kiddush and grace after meals cards. A “human chain” initiative will see Melbournians joining together to walk to synagogues across the city, picking up people at hundreds of stops along the way.
“It’s not about my shul or your shul,” says Rabbi Moshe Kahn, a local organizer. “The emphasis is on going to whatever shul you can that’s within walking distance.”
Kahn reports that more than 100 Jewish organizations are putting on events over the Shabbat. “There’s no competition, everyone is a part of the Shabbat Project,” he says. “This is something that’s larger than any individual or any individual organizations. At our final meeting, I took a moment to look around the room at the diversity of our committee members and I got goosebumps.”
In South Africa, where the Shabbat Project was born in 2013, street dinners – some involving up to a thousand people – are taking place in virtually every neighborhood in Johannesburg.
The night before, high school pupils from across the city will gather on the rooftop of the Norwood Mall, bringing with them “guitars, drums, sitars, banjos, harmonicas and multitudes and multitudes of singing voices” for a post-halla bake musical jam that, says one participant, “would probably bring the roof down if it wasn’t already underneath us.”
But it is some of the more unlikely participating Southern African locales that really capture the imagination: A group of individuals from Pretoria have banded together to host a supper for 60 people at their apartment building; the once-bustling Griqualand West Hebrew Congregation in South Africa’s Karoo desert will be opening the doors for a special Shabbat morning service – for the first time in a long time; and across the border, the Swaziland Jewish community, which comprises 18 families, will be gathering for a communal Shabbat meal at someone’s home, and will be endeavoring to keep Shabbat in full.
Arguably the most “out there” Shabbat Project event will be taking place on the “rooftop of Africa,” 13,000 feet above sea level. It involves a group of 28 public-spirited adventurers from Israel, the US, the UK and Canada, who are summiting Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to raise funds for SHALVA, the Association for Mentally and Physically Challenged Children in Israel. Four days into the eight-day trek, the group will set up camp at Barranco Wall, where they will bring in Shabbat with Jews worldwide taking part in the Shabbat Project.
“While last year’s participation was extraordinary,” says Goldstein, “this year presents the opportunity to build on those foundations – to take this initiative to truly unimaginable heights.”
Matisyahu is among a number of Jewish celebrities publicly championing the initiative. The rap-reggae musician – who this month played an unforgettable concert at Sultan’s Pool in Jerusalem – has produced a song especially for the Shabbat Project, in which he hauntingly recites the words of Friday night Kiddush amid an ambient electro- instrumental backdrop.
“Shabbat has the unique ability to bring people together when they may otherwise not be together,” says Matisyahu.
“It disconnects us from distraction and brings us to a simple state of oneness. I’m honored to have been asked to write a song for the Shabbat Project, and to contribute towards bringing a little more closeness between our brothers and sisters.”
For Goldstein – amid the spate of terrorist attacks in Israel, and the worry and uncertainty this has brought not just to the Jewish state but to Jews around the world – this “closeness” is something needed now more than ever.
“Men women and children have been attacked in such senseless fashion and it weighs heavily on all of us. At times like this we need to dig deep find strength. And where do we find strength, if not from each other? Kol Yisrael arevim ze la ze [All Jews are responsible for each other]... acheini kol ben Yisrael [all Jews are brothers]... we are all brothers and sisters. And when we join together, we can withstand the greatest challenges of all. That’s really what it means to keep it together.
“This Shabbat, as Jews in 550 cities around the world prepare to keep it together, we can unearth the spirit that binds us all to each other. We can really feel k’ish ehad blev ehad [as on person with one heart]. That we are indeed one.”
The Shabbat Project will be taking place this year on October 23-24, in more than 550 cities and 65 countries around the world.