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Stop Doing, Start Being: 2018 Shabbat Project to Reach 1,400 Cities

October 24, 2018 | by Simon Apfel

This year’s Shabbat Project includes mountaineers summiting Kilimanjaro and the lone Jew in Larkana, Pakistan, keeping Shabbat with the rest of the Jewish world.

The Shabbat Project is a global, grassroots movement that brings Jews from across the world together to keep a single Shabbat, transcending religious denomination, political persuasion and other arbitrary divides such as age, language and lifestyle.

Last year, the Shabbat Project moved the needle past the 1,000-city mark, and attracted record numbers of participants in many of those cities. An estimated one million people took part – not just in unique Shabbat programmes, but in city-wide, spirited pre-Shabbat “Challah Bakes” and post-Shabbat “Havdallah Concerts”.

In San Diego, more than a thousand Shabbat meals have been arranged at private homes across the county, with people hosting neighbours, friends, colleagues and even perfect strangers. They’re calling it “Radical Hospitality”.

In New York, Long Islanders will enjoy the spectacle of Kabbalat Shabbat services and singing in the streets, followed by a “Dark Tisch” – a Friday night meditative gathering with singing and snacks, held in near-complete darkness.

While in Spring Valley, a diverse group of women, many new to the Shabbat experience, are embarking on a weekend of “meditation, prayer, Torah teachings, massage and movement" led by qualified yoga instructor, Bracha Meshchaninov.

In Detroit, an unlikely partnership will see BBYO (Bnei Brith Youth Organisation), a pluralistic Jewish teen movement, joining forces with Aish HaTorah for a full 25-hour Shabbaton.

These are just a few of the thousands of initiatives being rolled out around the globe as part of this week’s Fifth International Shabbat Project.

“Our objective this year, as in previous years, is simply to enable as many people as possible to keep one Shabbat together,” says South African Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, the founder and director of the Shabbat Project.

“Ultimately, through mass participation in authentic Shabbat experiences, we hope to shift the cultural perception of Shabbat, and forge unity among all Jews, regardless of background.”

In Israel, the Shabbat Project is being endorsed by members of the Knesset.

More than a thousand Tel Avivians are sitting down to a Friday night dinner in a shipping hangar at Namal port, while Jerusalem will host a city-wide seudah shlishit at a bar adjoining the Machane Yehuda shuk, and a bat mitzvah girl has extended an open invitation to the entire city.

More than 30 apartment buildings across Santiago, Chile, will be hosting Friday night dinners in the lobby to help neighbours get to know each other.

A group of intrepid mountaineers summiting Kilimanjaro are pausing for 25 hours to keep Shabbat 4,000ft above sea level.

And Zuriel Solangi, a lone Jew in Larkana, Pakistan, will join compatriot Faisel Benkhald, a lone Jew in Karachi, in keeping Shabbat with the rest of the Jewish world.

Naypyidaw (Myanmar) is participating for the first time, as is San Luis, Argentina; Hobart, Tasmania; Accra, Ghana; and Curaçao, a Dutch Caribbean island.

They will join around 300 cities and neighborhoods in Israel, over 500 cities in the US, and a combined one million Jews in more than a thousand cities in 98 countries around the world.

“One of the unique aspects of the Shabbat Project is that all factional identities – all denominations, affiliations, ideologies, and political differences – are put aside,” says Goldstein. “This is real Jewish unity – grown from the ground up. Jews across the spectrum are welcome to it because of this spirit of unity.”

“Stop doing. Start being.”

The campaign theme for the 2018 Shabbat Project is “Stop doing. Start being.” This is a reference to the unique opportunity Shabbat affords people to lay down the demands, distractions and devices that dominate modern life, and devote one day to the truly important things that might otherwise get lost in the maelstrom.

“The unfortunate reality,” says Goldstein, “is that in our modern age, as a result of the lives we live and lifestyle choices we make, we end up not having the time or the emotional space to devote attention to the things that really matter – personal growth, our families and relationships, our spiritual wellbeing. Shabbat gives us that time and that space, and the results of that can be truly transformative.”

“Crucially, it is the things we cannot do on Shabbat which free us up to do the things we can. Because of the so-called ‘restrictions’ of the day, we actually get a chance to re-engage as families, and revisit and reinvigorate our most important relationships.”

“The Shabbat Project is an opportunity for the entire Jewish world to keep one complete Shabbat together – from Friday evening just before sunset on October 26, until Saturday night after the stars have come out, on October 27,” says Goldstein.

“The beauty of this is that it is so practical and manageable. After all, it’s only one Shabbat. It’s something everyone can do.”

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