It’s a Shabbat Project like none other.
On November 6-7, the Shabbat Project is once again happening in more than 1,600 cities and 106 countries around the world. This year, though, it’s arriving in a world transformed by the coronavirus – and the project has had to reinvent itself as a result.
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 call of the project is to “Bring Shabbat Home”.
With the coronavirus continuing to upend daily life, partners and organizers around the world have pivoted from the big, city-wide spectacles that have characterized the project over the years, to online virtual pre-Shabbat events, and to a more intimate home-based experience over the Shabbat itself.
Shabbat Project founder and director, Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein, believes that in a volatile and uncertain world, “Bringing Shabbat Home” can restore some stability to our lives.
“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.”
Even amidst the challenges, Goldstein says the response has exceeded expectations.
“Thousands of partners have again stepped forward, eager to bring the Shabbat experience to their communities. 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.”
Because of the corona restrictions, city partners have had to adapt. Among the pre-Shabbat events scheduled are virtual challah bakes, online classes about Shabbar, cooking webcasts, global singathons and virtual synagogue tours.
One of the positive spin-offs of having online 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.
Meanwhile, a challah bake in Argentina will unite Jewish communities in 32 cities across the country for the first time. And Long Island’s “Cook and Connect” webinar, featuring young cooking sensation and Chopped winner Rachel Goldzwal, will bring together teenage girls 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 in these pre and post Shabbat events. And of course it’s so in tune with the spirit of the Shabbat Project.”
Another event highlight this year is 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 Thursday night featuring Ishay Ribo as well as live addresses by UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and Rabbi Goldstein himself, and will close out on Saturday night with a live Zoom havdalah for all 75 participating shuls, followed by the ‘Great UK Shabbaton at Home Quiz’.
Elsewhere, a group of 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 by will feature international singers, filmmakers and celebrity chefs.
Meanwhile, the Shabbat Project head office in Johannesburg will be distributing around 7,500 bags filled with Shabbat-themed goodies to the South African Jewish community, acclaimed Jewish historian Emmanuel Attyasse is leading a virtual tour of old Jewish France, and 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 Karnei Shomron 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 to a list of Israel-based recipient groups. Recipients include Covid-19 sufferers, doctors and healthcare workers battling it out on the frontline, volunteer first responders putting themselves in harm’s way, lone soldiers, elderly people who have had to cut themselves off from the world for months at a time, and others. The flowers are fully sponsored, and will be delivered on Friday November 6 – just in time for Shabbat.
The 2020 Shabbat Project arrives at a fraught time – right 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 global 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.”
The International Shabbat Project which will be taking place in more than 1,500 cities around the world from Nov 6-7, 2020.