The Shabbos Project
Rabbi Goldstein, Founder of the World Shabbat Project: “Shabbat Belongs to Every Member of the Jewish Nation.”
What began as a local initiative in the South African Jewish community that turned into a dizzying success, has now become a global initiative in which tens of thousands of Jews all over the world unite and keep Shabbat together. Just before the world Shabbat Project again lights up our world, we contacted the founder of the initiative, Rabbi Warren Goldstein, for an inspiring conversation
Unfortunately, there are many Jews whose lives are lived differently. They haven’t merited to experience the joy of Shabbat when it is kept according to Jewish law. This is what pushed Rabbi Goldstein, the chief rabbi of South Africa, to stand at the head of an initiative called world “Shabbat project”, which goal is to unite as many Jewish men and women as possible around joint Shabbat observance. In honor of the World Shabbat project, which will be held this year during the upcoming Shabbat (November 12, 2016), we spoke with Rabbi Goldstein to understand his initiative a little better.
When did the project begin?
The Shabbat Project began when I was serving as the chief rabbi of South Africa in 2013. Already on the first Shabbat that we organized, most of the members of the Jewish community in South Africa participated. Today it is organized in many countries.
Who is it for?
The Shabbat Project is for every single Jew, and it offers an opportunity of a powerful and special Shabbat experience in which over a million Jews around the world are keeping one Shabbat together. It is a popular movement, and that is the secret of its success. People who heard about the Shabbat Project decided that they wanted to join, and they brought in their communities along with them.
Therefore you can say that more than anything, the world Shabbat Project is a movement for people and by people. More than 5000 organizers speaking 8 languages are taking part in the initiative’s events around the world, organizing their own events, and bringing the Shabbat Project to their community.
The goal of the Shabbat Project is to unite Jews around the world to keep one Shabbat together. We should connect and unite Jewry not just when there is a crisis or war but out of our inherent unity and joy in the importance of Torah in our lives, and the importance of one Jew to another.
The idea at the heart of the initiative is that Shabbat has always united and drawn Jews close to each other — whether it was in the framework of the home and family, or with neighbors and the wider community. It doesn’t belong to one stream or sector but to the entire Jewish people — every Jew who is a Jew, whether in Israel or the world. In our generation where the fast pace of modern life never seems to stop and we are getting used to virtual relationships, the Shabbat is without a doubt a tremendous gift — an opportunity to slow down, to detach ourselves from the mobile phones and Facebook, and to engage in real, one-to-one communication.
Can you tell us about a special event that occurred in the framework of the Shabbat Project in Israel?
One of the special Shabbat Project events was held in Netanya. Two women heard about the idea of the Shabbat Project only ten days before the date, and decided to immediately organize a challah-baking event for women. They thought that about 50 women would come, but as the event drew near, they heard from more and more women that they were coming. Almost every day they had to switch the venue to a larger hall. In the end, 800 women came to the event and it was held in the main plaza of the city.
The participants were women from all sectors — traditional, religious, chareidi and secular. Even bypassers joined in. They prepared dough, separated the challah and baked challahs in honor of Shabbat. Gena Fortino, one of the participants, told us: “All the tables quickly filled up, and everyone wanted to be part of this amazing project. On every table cards were placed with the prayer that one says before reciting the blessing, and when one of the women took her piece of dough and recited the words ‘This is challah’, we all answered ‘Amen.’ It was a very spiritual experience.”
What is being planned this year?
This year, the Shabbat Project will take place during Shabbat Lech Lecha, and Shabbat will be observed in 961 cities around the world. A million Jews will unite in 87 countries worldwide. I am happy to tell you that every day, more and more cities are joining the initiative. A large range of events are being planned in Israel, including joint Shabbat meals, large kiddushes, challah-baking events, mass Havdala ceremonies, and more. The various events will be held in over 100 places in Israel, including Ashkelon, Eilat, Sderot, Herzliya, Yizrael Valley, Tel Aviv and more.
Before I conclude, please share with us a few special stories that occurred in the wake of the initiative which took place abroad.
There are more than a few exhilarating stories which have reached us from around the world. For instance, in 2014, a Jewish woman from a small city in Nevada heard about the Shabbat Project, and even though she wasn’t religious, and Judaism was not part of her day-to-day life, she decided to join. She opened an event in the Project’s Internet website, and to her surprise, discovered that there were more Jews in her city. Due to this discovery, she organized a Shabbat meal in which another 6 families participated, and together they all celebrated the Shabbat Project.
Another special story happened in Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa, whose height is 5,895 meters above sea level, which attracts many mountain climbers every year. On the date on which the Shabbat Project was held, several Jews were part of a group of mountain climbers which were on the way to the summit. They asked the members of their group, both Jews and non-Jews, to stop the climb for 25 hours so they could keep Shabbat. The entire group went along, and the light of Shabbat shone also on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro.