Over 1m Jews in 1,150 cities across 94 countries in a record-shattering Shabbat Project

November 15, 2016 Agencies
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The 2016 global Shabbat Project – now in its third year – outdid its predecessors on all fronts, reaching 1,150 cities in 94 countries around the world, and attracting record numbers of participants. 

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Some 8,000 gathered for a challah bake in Buenos Aires, Argentina

An estimated one million people took part in celebrations on and around the Shabbat of Nov. 11-12 – not just in unique Shabbat programs, but in city-wide pre-Shabbat “Challah Bakes” and post-Shabbat “Havdallah Concerts.”

“The response to this year’s Shabbat Project has been stronger than ever,” says South African Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, founder and director of The Shabbat Project. “It has been so inspiring to see how The Shabbat Project connects with millions of Jews from every kind of background, and how people around the world have worked in partnership to make this a sublime moment of Jewish unity, all centered around Shabbat.”

The Shabbat Projects brought together Jews of diverse backgrounds and persuasions in ways never seen before and many of the participants observed Shabbat in full for the first time in their lives. In the U.S. – from Cleveland to Coconut Creek, Houston to Hoboken, New York to North Druid Hills – there were a total of 543 participating cities. Celebrations in Baltimore and San Diego drew tens of thousands of participants.

“We’ve witnessed an outpouring of emotion across the Jewish world, as Jews from all walks of life have embraced The Shabbat Project, putting aside their differences and gathering together in a spirit of love and unity,” says Goldstein. “There is a real thirst worldwide for true Jewish unity and for a genuine connection to Judaism. And people really resonate with the way Shabbat carves out a sacred space of tranquility and togetherness amidst the frenzy of modern life.”

Stories big and small from across the globe are already beginning to emerge – 8,000 at a challah bake in Buenos Aires; 15 families in the tiny Jewish enclave in Cancun, Mexico, keeping Shabbat for the first-time; 850 Sydneysiders “seaing” in Shabbat at a musical Kabbalat Shabbat service on Bondi Beach; a Shabbaton on board a cruise ship in the Atlantic; and a lone Jew in Karachi, Pakistan, keeping Shabbat with the rest of the Jewish world.

This year, thousands of Israelis from 160 cities and towns, including also joined events across the Jewish state, including 1,000 Tel Avivians eating Friday night dinner together and a Havdalah ceremony with 2,000 people in Raanana. Entire buildings across Israel hosted “Kiddush Binyani” services, with residents gathering in the buildings’ lobbies for Shabbat meals.

France boasted 19 participating cities, including Paris, Strasbourg, Grenoble and Nice. For first-time participants in Metz, The Shabbat Project coincided with the anniversary of the liberation of the city’s Grand Synagogue in 1944, and various Shabbat celebrations were held commemorating the event. Singers Shlomi Shabbat and Yishai Lapidot brought the curtain down on the Paris event at a Havdalah Concert for 3,000 people.

To coordinate the global initiative on such a large scale, The Shabbat Project’s head office in Johannesburg worked with some 6,000 global partners – up from 5,000 in 2015.

Goldstein, who recently debuted at 21 on The Jerusalem Post’s “50 Most Influential Jews” list and was dubbed the “Good Shabbos Rabbi,” is driven by a conviction that the two major challenges facing the Jewish world – assimilation and apathy on the one hand, and divisiveness and discord on the other – can be reversed through innovative thinking and “big ideas.”

“Through the transformative power of Shabbat, we’ve seen individuals and communities do great things. We’ve seen walls torn down, families rejuvenated, deep feelings awakened, deep friendships formed: this is what Shabbat can do,” said Goldstein.

“Big ideas can change the world and The Shabbat Project is one such big idea – a call to Jews all around the globe to think boldly about our future, to connect across the walls we’ve put up. The Shabbat Project is the story of Jews returning to their roots, reconnecting with their heritage, returning to their bonds of natural closeness and friendship—all through the Shabbat experience.”

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