Thousands of bouquets of flowers were delivered in time for this past Shabbat, including to Coronavirus (COVID-19) patients, doctors, frontline healthcare workers, volunteer first responders, Lone Soldiers, elderly people who are isolated during the pandemic, and others.
The flowers included a personal message from each sender that gave recipients a feeling of warmth and comfort as the world reels from a global pandemic and a divisive US election.
Among others to receive Shabbat flowers were Holocaust survivors, new immigrants to Israel, community leaders, people with disabilities, residents in old-age homes and farmers.
“The thinking behind it is quite simple. It’s been a really difficult year. We’ve been torn apart in many ways. So, at the Shabbat Project we decided to come up with a campaign that could bring people together – something to remind one another that we are always here for each other,” said South African Chief Rabbi and founder of the Shabbat Project, Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein.
“Shabbat is always an opportunity for all of us to come together, put aside our differences and build a kinder, gentler, more empathetic world,” he added.
Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin was among several well-known public figures participating in Flowers for Shabbat.
“It was a privilege to take part in this moving initiative. Shabbat brings so much joy and we must do all we can to bring light and happiness,” said Rivlin. “My flowers were sent to the residents of the Naamat refuge shelter for women in Jerusalem, with my wishes for strength and happiness.”
The “Flowers for Shabbat” initiative was part of this year’s annual international Shabbat Project, which took place in over 1,600 cities and 106 countries around the world.
This year saw organizers persevere through Coronavirus restrictions to continue to bring together Jews of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities to keep one Shabbat together. The theme of this year’s Project was to “Bring Shabbat Home.”
The project 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.
A colorful variety of online events created energy and momentum going into the Shabbat.
Highlights from this year’s Shabbat Project included a virtual challah bake in Arizona involving participants from New York, Canada, New Jersey, Australia, South America and Israel; a special challah bake in Mexico City for 135 bat mitzvah girls from across Latin America and Spain, which helped to alleviate some of the disappointment of not being able to celebrate their bat mitzvah with their friends and extended family; and a Jewish vegan Shabbat cooking class in Los Angeles.
In Kfar Yona, Israel, the Ministry of Education in association with the local municipality, sent thousands of “Shabbat kits” – with candles, a songbook, challah ingredients and other items – to every resident in the town, and encouraged neighbors to exchange challahs with each other.
A similar initiative in Eilat saw Shabbat packs distributed to 1,000 families around the city, as well as to soldiers, Magen David Adom workers and policemen.
In South Africa, high school students ran their own challah bake, encouraging participants to bake four challahs and donate two of them to the needy, while also raising money for local welfare organizations that have done such vital work during the coronavirus crisis.
The UK held two events – a 24-hour challah bake featuring 19 different cities, and a “Shabbaton at Home” initiative that reached some 30,000 Jewish households and 75 shuls across the country.
Additional highlights included a national effort in Panama to deliver Shabbat meals to families who have been economically affected by COVID-19, and a webcast in Orange County featuring renowned psychologist and Holocaust survivor, Dr Edith Eger, followed by a live broadcast performance from the Shalva band in Jerusalem.
In the build-up to Shabbat, special Shabbat boxes with education materials were distributed to Jewish families across Orange County.
Other events were held in Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Boulogne, Sydney, Moscow, Toronto, and across the United States.
“Against all odds, this was actually the most vibrant Shabbat Project in recent memory, even amid all of the COVID-19 challenges and restrictions,” said Rabbi Goldstein. “Jewish communities around the world joined together, virtually, defying geographical barriers, in a beautiful display of Jewish unity. I believe the Jewish world is realizing – now more than ever – that Shabbat is our anchor, no matter how stormy the sea.”