By Rachel Gross
Jewish unity is at the forefront of the International Shabbat Project, which will occur around the world during the Shabbat Oct. 24 and 25. The goal is for Jews of all denominations to experience the beauty of Shabbat together.
Dallas is one of 30 U.S. cities, along with Houston, that is participating in the Shabbat Project. It will begin at 7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 23 with a communitywide challah bake open to men, women and children at the Aaron Family JCC. It continues at noon Saturday, Oct. 25 when the entire community is invited for Shabbat lunch at Congregation Ohr HaTorah with guest speaker Rabbi Gav Friedman from Jerusalem, followed by singing with musician Eitan Katz. The final event takes place at 8 p.m. that evening with a Havdallah concert at the JCC featuring Katz and his band.
Rabbi Mayer Hurwitz, assistant dean of the Dallas Area Torah Association and founder of Young Jewish Professionals (YJP), is coordinating the weekend. He said it is inspiring for Dallas to be involved in this.
“The fact that Jews from all backgrounds and all levels of affiliation can get together and share what we have in common around the world is amazing,” he said. “To know what we are doing is being shared with Jews in 40 countries is powerful and shows that we need to get together more often. My hope is that all of the organizations and synagogues in the Dallas/Fort Worth area will participate.”
South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein developed the Shabbat Project last year. Approximately 50,000 Jews kept Shabbat, many for the first time in their lives; they celebrated by joining for challah baking, community meals and a concert. The success of that led to this year’s worldwide undertaking.
Nearly 170 cities in the U.S., Israel, Canada and Mexico — in addition to countries in Africa, Asia, Australia and South America — are all participating the same weekend. Although each city can choose what it specifically wants to do, the meaning comes in that everyone is celebrating Shabbat together, according to Hurwitz.
Besides Jewish unity, the Shabbat Project has four other objectives. Those include: the power of Shabbat with physical, emotional and spiritual rejuvenation; a social movement that is driven by the people, for the people; an undiluted experience to observe Shabbat together; and achieving this on one specific Shabbat.
“We are not trying to make people keep Shabbat, but maybe they can do one more thing — even if it’s lighting candles or having a Shabbat meal,” said Dallas community member Marcy Rhoads, who is helping Hurwitz plan the event. “The Shabbat Project is unifying for everyone, whether they are religious or not. I am observant, and plan on inviting my non-observant friends to spend Shabbat with us. The big picture is to spend time together and unplug. We are very excited to do this in Dallas.”
Dallas native Laura Rudberg said she has never experienced something like the Shabbat Project before. She is one of the young adults on the planning committee and is also in charge of the challah bake.
“Challah is such an integral part of the Shabbat experience and it’s fun to kick-off the Shabbat Project in this way,” Rudberg said. “We are hoping for 500 people to attend. When I first saw the video of what was done in South Africa last year, I found it really inspiring and knew it would be great in Dallas. There is nothing else like this and it’s powerful that Jews throughout the world will be doing this at the same time.”
Hurwitz said although planning just began in July, there has been a positive response from the entire community.
He believes that the Shabbat Project is happening at the perfect time of year coming off the spirit of High Holidays, all of the anti-Semitism plaguing the world and from the events that occurred in Israel over the summer.
“The Shabbat project gives us a heightened sense of Jewish pride and a positive Jewish experience,” Hurwitz added. “Shabbat has been the anchor of the Jewish people for centuries, and we are tapping into that. I want people to walk away with a sense of unity and that the Jewish people need to stand together. What better way to do that than during Shabbat? We can focus on the strength and beauty of the Jewish nation.”
The challah bake and Havdallah concert are free and tickets for the Shabbat lunch are $18 for adults and $10 for children. Registration is required for everything.
For more information about the weekend, how to donate to it and to RSVP, visit www.dallasshabbatproject.com.