This year’s global Shabbat Project encompassed 1,150 cities in 94 countries around the world, drawing a record number of participants as over one million people took part in the celebrations during the Shabbat of November 11-12.
“The response to this year’s Shabbat Project has been stronger than ever,” said South African Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, the founder and director of The Shabbat Project, which was first introduced in South Africa in 2013.
“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.”
Now in its third year, the grassroots Shabbat Project brings together Jews of diverse backgrounds and persuasions, with many of the participants observing the Jewish Sabbath in full for the first time in their lives. Project events this year included pre-Shabbat challah bakes, special programs on Shabbat, and post-Shabbat havdallah concerts.
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.
“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,” said 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,” he continued.
In Buenos Aires, 8,000 people took place in a challah bake, while 15 families in the tiny Jewish enclave in Cancun, Mexico, kept Shabbat for the first time. In Sydney, 850 people took part in a musical Kabbalat Shabbat service on Bondi Beach while a lone Jew in Karachi, Pakistan, celebrated Shabbat on his own.
France’s Jewish community had a significant showing with 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. Israeli singers, Shlomi Shabbat and Yishai Lapidot performed at a Havdalah Concert in a Paris event for 3,000 people.
In Israel, thousands of residents from 160 cities and towns, also joined events across the country including 1,000 Tel Avivians who took part in a Friday night dinner together and a Havdalah ceremony with 2,000 people in Raanana.
Across the United States from Tidewater, Virgina to Las Vegas, Nevada and Butte, Montana to El Paso, Texas, there were a total of 543 participating cities nationwide. Celebrations in Baltimore and San Diego drew tens of thousands of participants.
“Through the transformative power of Shabbat, we’ve seen individuals and communities do great things,” said Goldstein, who has served as South Africa’s chief rabbi for 10 years and has published several books.
“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,” he concluded.