SHABBOS AROUND THE WORLD
November 7, 2018
Beis Moshiach in #1140, Current Events

It’s a project that seems like something out of the end-of-days prophecies, with close to a million Jews around the world uniting to observe Shabbos. * The Shabbos Project is the brainchild of Rabbi Warren Goldstein, Chief Rabbi of South Africa, who says that the project is to hasten the Geula. * Small Shabbos stories from behind the huge global project.

By Mendy Arad

Kaylee, a Jewish woman from a small town in Nevada, is not religiously observant. But when she heard via social media about the global Shabbos Project, she decided to keep that Shabbos together with another million Jews.

To Kaylee it was important to observe Shabbos together with other Jews in an uplifting atmosphere. She was sure she was the only Jew in her area; her young daughter thought they were the only Jews in the world!

Kaylee posted on social media saying she was looking for Jews in her area. To her surprise, three Jewish families responded. The four Jewish families got together for a special uplifting Shabbos that heightened their awareness of their eternal connection with the Jewish people, the Torah and Hashem.

Rabbi Warren (Zev) Goldstein began the interview with Beis Moshiach with this moving story. R’ Goldstein is a fascinating person. Although he is not a Chassid, and in general, does not belong to any category, he has adopted the Rebbe’s vision and has come up with creative ways to get Jews and non-Jews to prepare the world for the Geula, the sooner the better.

Aside from being the chief rabbi of South Africa, which means he is busy taking care of the needs of Jews in that country, he also works with non-Jews most successfully, fighting against corruption, poverty, crime and anti-Semitism.

He also fights for Eretz Yisroel’s image in the world and the right and obligation of Jews to live in their land. For example, in a speech he gave in the old shul in Cape Town, he said that for his meeting with the president of South Africa, he came prepared with … a Gemara.

What sugya is the chief rabbi learning with the gentile president? Together, they learned the sugya about a doctor needing permission from the Creator to heal. This was to drive home his message that in order to rectify the world, man needs to strengthen his connection and partnership with the Creator.

In his address, R’ Goldstein said with real Jewish pride that was received with accolades, “I must inform you Mr. President that with all of the love and commitment that we have to South Africa, we also very much love and cherish the land of Israel. It is a part of who we are. The land of Israel is the land that was promised to our forefathers, and since Joshua brought us into the land, there has been a continuous Jewish presence to this very day. This is a divine promise and an essential condition of our survival.”

Despite his extensive resume, when I asked him about the enormous kiddush Hashem he is making in the world through the Shabbos Project, he modestly replied, “Boruch Hashem,” but there was something else that was there too. It appears that the hoped-for goal of “If Yisroel observes two Shabbasos, they would immediately be redeemed” burns within him. The dream that he started as a local project for the Jews of South Africa spread like wildfire and became a global endeavor.

WE WERE STUNNED BY THE RESPONSE

How does the rabbi of a country come to launch such an enormous project that is global in scope, and quite ambitious; that Jews around the world keep Shabbos?

“The truth is that at first we thought it would be only a local endeavor, just for Jews in South Africa. I very much wanted to do something that would strengthen awareness about Shabbos, which is the foundation of Jewish life. So we launched an initiative to unite around keeping Shabbos, ‘Keeping It Together.’

“I remember speaking about the idea with my wife and we decided that even if only 100 or even 10 Jews would keep Shabbos, it was worth all the effort.

“In the end, the community in South Africa loved the idea and adopted it enthusiastically, on a scale which left us stunned. They wanted us to do it again. We also got mail from communities around the world that wanted to copy the model. We decided to invite the entire Jewish world to keep Shabbos using that same format. We produced a video that described the Shabbos experience that we did in South Africa, and then, as a grassroots movement, many communities copied the model. It happened without an organization or complicated bureaucracy.

“At the same time, we set up an operations center in Tel Aviv which coordinated all of the requests, and sent every community or even gatherings of individuals, all the materials, press releases, advertisements etc. necessary to replicate the project locally.

“Since then, every year the project grows. A year ago, we had over 8000 volunteers around the world who brought Shabbos to over 800,000 Jews around the globe.”

Many of the Rebbe’s shluchim also participate in this worldwide initiative whose purpose is to hasten the Geula. This is a “Worldwide Mivtza Moshiach” initiative run by Rabbi Chaim Hershkowitz, which linked up with the worldwide Shabbos Project and unites Chabad communities and Jews around the world in Shabbos observance.

“The power of this Shabbos,” says Rabbi Moshe Wilensky, shliach in Portland, Maine, “can bring Moshiach.” Last year, more than 300 shluchim around the world took part in the program and this year, the organizers hoped to add at least another 100 shluchim.

I understand that this involves numerous people who do not consider themselves traditional or as coming from a traditional background. What gets people who are not necessarily nostalgic about the past or childhood experiences to participate in the Shabbos Project?

“First, people experienced, some for the first time in their lives, the gift that is called Shabbos. We say in the Shabbos piyutim, ‘Ma yedidus menuchaseich at Shabbos HaMalka’ (how pleasant is your restfulness, you Shabbos Queen). A Jew’s connection to Shabbos is the most natural thing in the world.

“People loved going together to shul, the Shabbos meal, the atmosphere etc. People left their cars and walked. You could see the streets full of Jews walking peacefully with their families, as though the world had stopped. There was nowhere to run, no business affairs; it was a break from the media and the phones and technology that overwhelm us.”

Of all the Taryag Mitzvos, why did you pick Shabbos?

R’ Goldstein smiled. “You are a Chabadnik and surely know the Midrash that Hashem promises that if we keep two Shabbasos we will be immediately redeemed. The Geula is the ambition of the Jewish people throughout the generations. It is Hashem’s goal in Creation. Our job is to make it a reality.

“In addition, (Tosafos in tractate Chagiga 3b) ‘It is said in the Midrash that three testify about one another: Yisroel, Shabbos and Hashem.’

“So if you’re asking why Shabbos especially, I think that Shabbos is not only a means to bring the Geula but is also a taste of the Geula, ‘a day that is all rest and serenity forever.’”

How do you communicate this idea of Shabbos-Geula to Jews who lack basic Jewish knowledge?

“Within the Shabbos itself is an experience that is akin to Geula, because Shabbos brings renewal, going back to the source, to the pure and authentic place of every Jew and the world.

“I’m not just saying this on my own; it’s from feedback that people sent us in recent years after observing Shabbos. We saw that the heart of Israel is awake; Jews want to keep Shabbos; Jews feel that within all the money-work-career, real meaning in life is missing. They are missing the disengagement from all technology that overwhelms us all of the days of the week and pulls us away from our own selves, our families and our people. By observing just one Shabbos, a Jew at least gets a taste of Geula.”

***

In conjunction with the global Shabbos Project, there are special events that take place around the world. On the website that was launched for the project, you can read about a shared Shabbos experience in Zimbabwe, a Challa Bake with 9000 women in Buenos Aires, a glow-in-the-dark Challa Bake in Costa Rica, a Shabbos meal for 1000 at the Tel Aviv port, kosher Shabbos meals served in the backpackers’ hostel in Da Lat, Vietnam, and a bi-national encounter on the Mexican-American border. There was also participation in Pakistan and on Mt. Kilimanjaro where Shabbos was also observed. All these are just a few of the thousands of special events that took place.

When Rabbi Goldstein speaks about a taste of the Geula by keeping Shabbos, he shows me a letter that he received from a Jewish woman named Halle Farber from Phoenix who wrote, “During the 2014 Shabbos Project, my family and I kept Shabbos together in its entirety for the first time. We lived too far from the shul to walk, so we stayed home and prayed together. We talked and enjoyed the simple beauty of Shabbos. My daughter and I baked challa and did another mitzva, taking challa for the first time.

“The next year, we already were ‘Shabbos experts.’ We walked five miles to and from shul. We volunteered to help with the community Challa Bake and I shared my experiences in observing Shabbos and baking challa with more than 1000 women and girls.

“Since then, we have moved. We live right near the shul and are actively involved in the amazing community of Shabbos observers. We are no longer ‘Shabbos novices.’ This Shabbos, I was even a challa coach. It was a magical experience.”

I went through numerous emails received and found a fascinating and amazing mosaic. Dozens, hundreds of thank you letters with moving stories that could fill a thick book.

Whether it’s a family from Norfolk on the Virginia coast that tells about an irreligious Israeli couple that were inspired by the Shabbos and decided to skip an exclusive and very profitable jewelry event that they had planned on attending, and kept Shabbos. Or a young woman who went to college from a small town without a Jewish community. In order to pay for her schooling, she worked as well as attended school. Following participation in the Shabbos Project, she asked her boss to change her time off from Sunday night to Friday night, so she could continue to “come closer to her religion.”

A chilling story caught my attention.

“October 2014 seems like a long time ago. Then, I was an unaffiliated, unobservant, secular Jew married to an unaffiliated non-Jew. A friend suggested that I consider checking out the Great Arizona Challah Bake. I agreed, largely because my youngest daughter was attending a local Jewish high school, and she and her schoolmates were participating in the event as ‘challah coaches.’

“When I walked into the room at the JCC, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of awe; by the spirit and presence of hundreds of Jewish women from all walks of life. For the first time I realized the connection I had to countless generations of powerful, wonderful, beautiful Jewish women, stretching over millennia – from our foremother, Sarah Imeinu, all the way through to my mother, to me, and to my three amazing daughters (all of whom, unlike me, knew how to bake challah).

“It sent shivers down my spine. I felt pride and awe and an overwhelming sense of love. And at that moment I realized that I had the obligation to maintain that 4,000-year-old chain connecting my children back through Sinai to Sarah and the other matriarchs.

“My husband, Chris, and I decided to participate in the whole Shabbat Project experience that year. We were invited to a community dinner and Shabbat lunch. We walked to shul and attended my husband’s first Orthodox service. And we attended an amazing Havdalah Concert.

“And we have never looked back.

“Today, I bake challah every week (sometimes with my daughter, the former high school challah coach). My husband and I kashered our kitchen and have kept Shabbat every week since that fateful day in 2014. Chris, meanwhile, is on the ‘home stretch’ (the beit din’s words) of a conversion …”

The mitzva of Shabbos is comprised of endless halachos and prohibitions. The section of the laws of Shabbos in Shulchan Aruch is the longest one. How can you transmit Shabbos to people who don’t know halacha and don’t know what is allowed and not allowed?

“You’re right. Shabbos is comprised of numerous halachos. We cannot bring it all to the general public, but working together with a number of poskim, our goal is to make the main laws and the main points required of the participants accessible: Not to drive; only to walk. Not to go to work. Not to use any electric or electronic appliance. Aside from that, our website and the materials we give out have the main points about the halachos of cooking, laundering, writing, danger to life, not to do gardening, etc. We distribute this and encourage people to read it. It’s an important part of the project.”

R’ Goldstein, did you imagine what an impact the project would have on millions of people?

“The truth is that when we started out, I could not imagine the scope in terms of numbers and in terms of the deep influence on people. But looking back, it’s the most natural thing. Shabbos observance is not just a mitzva; it’s a gift!

“The Gemara in Shabbos says, ‘Hashem said to Moshe: I have a good gift in my treasury and Shabbos is its name. I want to give it to Yisroel. Go and inform them.’ Shabbos is one of the few mitzvos that Hashem calls a gift. It is the most natural thing for a person who receives a gift to receive it with joy.”

R’ Goldstein pauses, and after a moment’s thought adds cautiously, “I think that despite the fact that Hashem gave Shabbos to the entire Jewish nation in every generation, in essence though, the Shabbos was given especially for our generation.”

Why?

“We are living in a generation in which the weekdays are packed to a point of exhaustion; the work, the telephones and emails, the apps and new technologies create an unrelenting constant stress. People constantly need to run, accomplish, acquire, update. This state of affairs is causing a tremendous thirst among Jews to try to disconnect from the inundation, and to connect to ourselves, to connect with family and to Hashem.

“The Maharal writes that there are three types of relationships in the world; between man and G-d, between man and his fellow man, and between man and himself. In our generation, the cry for connection on all three levels is resounding in a loud clamor. People are searching for themselves and for the meaning in their lives. People come home from work and instead of being with their children, are in the home with their work, with the emails and phone calls.

“That is why I think the Shabbos Project has been so successful. It was responding to a thirst that was already there, and we did not have to push or cajole very much. Shabbos provides the most natural basic need of every Jew; connection to Hashem, connection to family, and connection to one’s own self and soul.”

From the research that I did about the Shabbos Project, I discovered that even people who are known on the Israeli scene as being very far from Shabbos observance, such as MK Yair Lapid, are taking an active part in promoting the global Shabbos event. How does that square with all the talk in Eretz Yisroel about fear of “religification?”

“Look, I don’t live in Eretz Yisroel and I will definitely not try to issue rebuke about how one should behave. However, I absolutely believe that we most definitely need to free ourselves from all of the labels. There are places where everything is very dichotomous; everything is black and white. Each person is cataloged as Dati (religious), Chiloni (secular) or Mesorati (traditional), Sefardi or Ashkenazi.

“In truth, there is only one label that matters: Yehudi (Jew)! When this is the approach – which Chabad excels at in terms of how to relate to every Jew – then the message is not ‘I want to sell you on Judaism and mitzvos,’ but the only label that matters is Yehudi! The Torah belongs to all of us, the Shabbos belongs to and was given to every single Jew. It belongs to all of us.

“The spirit of the project is the spirit of unity and mutual respect. We stand face to face with each other on the same level and station. Everybody wants to taste from the ‘good gift’ that Hashem gave from His treasure stores.”

When we asked Rabbi Goldstein whether he has a connection with the Rebbe or ever met with him, he sighed. “I did not merit that. What I can tell you as chief rabbi of South Africa is the fact that the rabbis of Chabad are a very important contribution to the Jewish community in South Africa.


“We have an Agudas Rabbanim in South Africa which consists of Chabad rabbis along with religious-Zionist and chareidi rabbis. All together. That is the tradition of our community; we all recognize the good things that others do.”

What is your message now [two-three days before this year’s Shabbos Project]?

“First, if a Jew does not usually observe Shabbos, this is an opportunity for him to do so. If it is someone who usually observes Shabbos, it’s an opportunity to be part of the initiative and draw others in to observe Shabbos.

“There are various events, such as Challa Bakes, Havdala ceremonies, communal Shabbos meals and more. Everyone can participate by inviting those who don’t have an apparent connection yet to Judaism or Shabbos.

“I heard, for example, about a community that is making a siyum on the tractate Shabbos. Each person committed to learning one daf so they can finish it together. Without a doubt, this has the power to introduce an element of holiness. It’s not just about physical pleasures, but a day of spiritual content. Obviously, in addition to everything else, it is important to have the awareness that we are connecting through this to the Jewish nation as a whole, and to feel that we are a part of the Jewish nation.”

Are you preparing people for the scenario of Geula which will happen suddenly in the merit of Shabbos observance?

“We are not involved in matters that are hidden from us, but we need to do what we can. He gave us a gift, the Shabbos, and we can pass it forward. With Hashem’s help, this will hasten the Geula.”

SOME NUMBERS, BIG AND SMALL

The worldwide Shabbos project just celebrated its 5th year.

1,000,000 Jews kept Shabbos this year.

97 Countries.

1416 cities around the world.

As of this writing, the Shabbos Project has gotten over 64,000,000 mentions on social media and in the international press.

REPORTS FROM AROUND THE WORLD

 

“Shabbat S. Diego gave our community an amazing opportunity to shine. For the first time in years, the North County Jewish community came together – 15 organizations who typically have nothing to do with each other. More than 200 excited guests came out and enjoyed making challah dough, learning to braid while listening to a great live musical performance. A crowd of families with children, several tables full of excited seniors and everything in between. There was a great feeling in the air, a sense that our small community is not so small after all. Shabbat S. Diego gave us a huge gift, a sense of possibility that our often-neglected community can grow and have a bright future.”

Jessica Korsunsky, S. Diego, USA

* * *

“I live in Nelson, New Zealand, a town of approximately 150 Jews, where we’ve tried to ‘keep it together’ over the past three years (sadly, we no longer have a shul – it was closed over 100 years ago). Last weekend, my family being away, I decided to do the Shabbat Project all by myself. It was a wonderfully peaceful and meaningful 25 hours. Given our geographic location, I guess, along with other New Zealanders, I would have been among the first people on the planet to usher in Shabbat. I’m very much looking forward to participating again next year, and I’m hoping to observe a few more full Shabbats over the year.”

Richard Noar, Nelson, New Zealand

* * *

In Eretz Yisroel alone there were over 300 events in connection with the Shabbos Project. These are some of the many events that took place this year:

Beit Lechem, Kever Rochel – a bas mitzva girl held a challa baking event for the public.

In a bar near the Machane Yehuda market in Yerushalayim there was a public third Shabbos meal. Elsewhere in the city, on Derech Beit Lechem Street, a bas mitzva girl held a big event, open to all.

At the Tel Aviv port there was a huge Shabbos meal on Friday night. Over 1000 people took part.

Pakistan – a Jew who thought he was the last Jew in Pakistan and decided to keep Shabbos discovered, to his astonishment, because of the Shabbos Project, that there is another Jew in the country. The Shabbos Project united them so they could observe Shabbos together.

In Sydney Australia there was a mass Kabbalas Shabbos on Coogee Beach.

In Essex, England – 25 families without religious background kept Shabbos together.

In Santiago, Chile – The lobbies of over 30 buildings were used for group Shabbos meals for the tenants, in the course of which they had the opportunity to get to know one another better.

Shabbos on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania – a group of tourists from around the world, on their way to climbing the mountain, the highest in Africa, spent the 25 hours of Shabbos in the Barranco Camp at 4000 meters above sea level, and celebrated Shabbos together, along with Jews around the world.

In Johannesburg, South Africa there was a massive Havdala concert, and it is estimated that over 8000 people were in attendance.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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