On Friday night, White City Shabbat set the Guinness World Record for the Largest Shabbat Dinner ever at the Hangar 11 in the port of Tel Aviv. 2,226 attendees were officially inscribed in the Guinness World Record for the Largest Shabbat Dinner, with notable diners including Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau; Professor Alan Dershowitz; Ambassador Michael Oren; Israeli basketball legend Tal Brody; Canadian MP Irwin Cotler; MK Elazar Stern, and Mayor of Tel Aviv-Yafo, Ron Huldai.
At 11 p.m., the crowd cheered as the adjudicator from Guinness World Records (GWR), Pravin Patel, announced the final result. Patel, who was flown in from London especially for the occasion, kept the crowd in suspense as he went through the Guinness rules again and reminded everyone that in order to set the record, GWR demanded that a minimum of 1,000 diners must be in attendance. Consequently, when Mr Patel finally announced that 2,226 diners were included in the record, the crowd erupted in cheers, before singing “Am Yisrael Chai.”
Patel, who has been an adjudicator for GWR all over the world, said “This is my first time visiting Israel and first time experiencing a Shabbat dinner. It has been ‘officially amazing.’ Congratulations to White City Shabbat and the city of Tel Aviv.”
Making the Guinness World Record Largest Shabbat Dinner happen took almost a year of preparation, 60 days of crowdsourced fundraising, 800 bottles of wine, 80 bottles of vodka, 50 bottles of whiskey, 2,000 challah rolls, 80 long tables, 1,800 pieces of chicken, 1,000 pieces of beef, 250 vegetarian portions, 2,300 diners signed up and another 3,000 on the waiting list.
In addition to organizing a dinner for over 2,000 people, White City Shabbat also had to obey the laws of kashrut, Shabbat and of course, those of Guinness World Records. GWR stipulated that all attendees must be seated and have their first course served by the waiters all within five minutes, and thereafter must remain at the table for the full hour that it takes to eat the traditional shabbat meal. Table captains were appointed to report to Patel and verify that everyone adhered to the rules. It was also important for the Guinness judge to know that the meal adhered to traditional Jewish customs for Shabbat, including the proper prayers and blessings over wine and bread, and that the organizers weren’t breaking any religious laws.
The evening began with short speeches from Rabbi Lau, Dershowitz, Cotler and Jay Shultz, President of Am Yisrael Foundation, White City Shabbat’s umbrella organization. They were followed by a giant Kabbalat Shabbat prayer service outside of the Hangar. Once the meal was underway, organizers controlled the crowd by holding up large signs at strategic times throughout the meal, including “Shalom Alechem”, “Stand up”, “Sit down”. The words to many of the key prayers were projected on the inside walls of the venue. After the Golan Heights Winery sponsored Kiddush, Jay Shultz stood on a stage in the center of the room, hoisted a two-meter long challah above his head and roared out the Hamotzi blessing which marked the official start of the meal and triggered Patel’s stopwatch.
“Tonight, we all came together in the Land of Israel to celebrate Shabbat in unity and strength. There has never been an easier time in history for the Jewish People to live here, and it is clear that Tel Aviv is the most exciting thing happening in the entire Jewish World,” said Shultz, a New Jersey native who has been living in Israel for the past eight years. “May our unity of voice tonight reach and reassure all of Am Yisrael living around the globe, so they too will soon be as blessed as we are, to come Home. L’Shana HaBa’ah B’Tel Aviv!”
Various organizations, families, synagogues, and groups of visiting tourists had booked tables in advance so they could sit together including, Nefesh b’Nefesh Lone Soldiers, Hillel Latin America, Sackler Medical School and the Israel Lacrosse team. A range of strategic partners were also involved, including the Municipality of Tel Aviv-Yafo, the Israeli Ministry of Religious Services, ROI Community and Chabad on Campus who sent a group of young rabbis to help guide the crowd.
White City Shabbat co-Director Deborah Danan quoted early Zionist thinker, writer, and Tel Aviv resident, Ahad Ha’am. “Ahad Ha’am said, ‘More than Jews kept Shabbat, Shabbat guarded the Jews,’ and White City Shabbat has proven this over and over again in the last few years by providing an alternate family for those that don’t have loved ones close by. In Tel Aviv, vibrant Jewish life is becoming the fabric of the city in the way that hi-tech has. One of the reasons we started White City Shabbat is because we don’t believe that Shabbat was given only to one particular Jewish denomination. Shabbat is a gift given to all types of Jews and it’s time all of us learn to take advantage of it.”
Danan’s co-Director Eytan White said, “Tonight's epic dinner was the result of a lot of beautiful chutzpah and I couldn’t be happier. It is no coincidence that 613 was the date on today’s calendar just as it’s no coincidence that a famous sentence in this week’s Torah portion of Shelach is, ‘We shall surely ascend and conquer it, for we can surely do it!’ That is the magic of White City Shabbat.”
White City Shabbat is a volunteer-run non-profit organization that acts as the portal for Jewish life in Tel Aviv. The organization serves as a matchmaker for Shabbat hospitality, connecting guests with hosts throughout the city each week in addition to hosting large young professional communal dinners each month, holiday celebrations, a Jewish learning series, beginners learning minyan, and inter-community programming.