In a world transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 7th annual international Shabbat Project is organizing virtual pre-Shabbat events and providing educational materials for an intimate home-based Shabbat experience in more than 1,600 cities and 106 countries from November 6-7.
Since 2013, the annual event has brought together Jews of all ages and backgrounds, and nationalities to keep one Shabbat together. This year, given the altered circumstances, the Shabbat Project has reinvented itself, emphasizing the call to “Bring Shabbat Home.”
The project has created an array of educational resources that enhance the Shabbat-at-home experience, including a seven-step guide to observing Shabbat as well as a compendium of enriching and inspiring ideas to read and share around the Shabbat table. Meanwhile, pre-Shabbat events around the world will include virtual challah bakes, online classes about Shabbat, cooking webcasts, global sing-a-thons, and virtual synagogue tours.
Despite the necessity for partners and organizers worldwide to pivot towards online events and away from the large, city-wide spectacles that have characterized the Shabbat Project over the years, the global initiative believes it will make an influential impact this year through its timely and urgent objective: to restore some stability to our lives in a volatile and uncertain world.
“We have lived through times of chaos and confusion. But our homes have been havens. And Shabbat can ensure they remain so – places of stability and security, kindness and connection, warmth, and love. In a world turned upside down, Shabbat can keep us the right way up,” said the Shabbat Project’s founder and director, South African Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein.
Amid the pandemic’s challenges, Goldstein said the response to the Shabbat Project has exceeded expectations.
“Thousands of partners have again stepped forward, eager to bring the Shabbat experience to their communities,” he said. “New, innovative events and initiatives have begun to take shape. New participants are gearing up to experience a full Shabbat for the first time in their lives.”
One of the silver linings of this year’s exclusively online array of events is that geographical barriers have dissolved. Seed UK will broadcast an extraordinary 24-hour challah bake featuring 19 different live events from cities such as Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Sydney, Moscow, Toronto, and New York. A pre-Shabbat event in Arizona featuring Latino pop singer Miriam Sandler will include participants from four continents. And in the wake of the Abraham Accords, an event hosted in Israel will include the Jewish communities of Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Dubai, Kuwait, and Oman.
In Argentina, a challah bake will unite Jewish communities in 32 cities across the country for the first time. And Long Island’s “Cook and Connect” event, featuring young cooking sensation and Chopped winner Rachel Goldzwal, will bring together teenagers from around the world to share traditional Shabbat dishes and cultural cuisines.
“This is front-row access to Jewish life all over the globe,” says Goldstein. “You could attend a challah bake in Singapore, sit in on a Shabbat cooking class in Panama, enjoy Kabbalat Shabbat at the Kotel, and end off with havdalah in Colombia. It’s an opportunity to experience different Jewish cultures and Shabbat traditions from the comfort of your home.”
Other event highlights this year include Mizrachi UK’s “Shabbaton at Home,” involving some 30,000 Jewish households and 75 shuls across the country, with thousands of Shabbat booklets distributed to enhance the Shabbat experience. The event will kick off with a pre-Shabbat launch on November 5, featuring Israeli singer Ishay Ribo as well as live addresses by UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Goldstein, and will conclude on Saturday night with a live Zoom havdalah followed by the “Great UK Shabbaton at Home Quiz.”
Elsewhere, a group of Israeli volunteers will be cooking and delivering all four Shabbat meals to Magen David Adom first responders in Raanana, Herzliya, and Kfar Saba. A website in Denver is offering Shabbat meals, Shabbat classes, and Shabbat “survival kits” on demand. And an all-day “women’s day” event hosted in Netanya will feature international singers, filmmakers, and celebrity chefs.
In the movement’s founding country, the Shabbat Project’s head office in Johannesburg will distribute 7,500 bags filled with Shabbat-themed goodies to the South African Jewish community. In Boulogne, acclaimed Jewish historian Emmanuel Attyasse is leading a virtual tour of old Jewish France. And in Karnei Shomron, members of the religious-Zionist Bnei Akiva and largely secular Tzofim youth movements will be working together to deliver food parcels and flowers to residents of the town affected by COVID-19.
The latter is an offshoot of “Flowers for Shabbat”, a new Shabbat Project initiative that involves people across the world sending flowers and a personal message to a list of Israel-based recipient groups. Recipients include COVID-19 patients, doctors, frontline healthcare workers, volunteer first responders, lone soldiers, elderly people who are isolated during the pandemic, and others. At the time of writing, around 40,000 had been ordered. The flowers will be delivered on Friday, November 6, just in time for Shabbat.
The 2020 Shabbat Project arrives at a fraught time – in the middle of perhaps the most bitter US elections in history, in a world fractured along political and ideological lines, and reeling from a pandemic that has devastated lives and livelihoods. Goldstein, for one, believes that Shabbat can offer something positive and unifying – something centering in a world that is spinning.
“In these turbulent times, Shabbat can be a safe-haven for us, a respite from the 24-hour news cycle, and from all the negativity and divisions that are ravaging our society. Right now, we’re desperate for a better world – and we can build it: right here at home, with our families, within our four walls.
“May this Shabbat be a force for unity and healing. May we all find calm and comfort in Shabbat. And may this Shabbat truly be a Shabbat Shalom.”