Johannesburg – A unique initiative launched by South Africa’s chief rabbi designed to unite Jews all across the country surpassed organizers’ expectations, as an estimated 10,000 participants gathered last weekend for a country-wide Shabbos observance.
The Shabbos Project – Keeping it Together, as described by Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, chief rabbi of South Africa, was a mass effort for the country’s Jews to embrace their heritage with a traditional Shabbos observance lasting from sundown on October 11th until nightfall on October 12th.
The project’s manifesto urged Jewish South Africans to remove themselves from the distractions and pressures of daily life and to keep one Shabbos according to the strictures set out in the Shulchan Aruch.
In preparation for the event, The Shabbos Project’s website offered numerous resources, including a Shabbos primer for those who are new to Shabbos observance and a Shabbos toolkit which included a Shabbos checklist, audio clips of prayers and zemiros, stories and divrei Torah. The site also offered participants the opportunity to find a shiur, a coach and a Shabbos host.
The event began with on Thursday evening with 3,000 women and girls gathering to make their own challah at the Great Street Challah Bake, according to Laurence Horwitz of Mama, a creative agency that was involved in coordinating The Shabbos Project.
“We closed off a street in Glenhazel, in the heart of Jewish South Africa,” Horwitz told VIN News. “We prepared tables with all the ingredients and each participant had a bowl with pre-measured flour, oil, eggs and everything they needed. They mixed the challah and everyone took challah together, made the bracha together and then took their challahs home to bake them.”
The Challah Bake, which was described by The Shabbos Project’s event page as “a sublime moment of Jewish pride and unity,” featured an address by Israeli lecturer Rabanit Yemima Mizrachi. According to the event’s Facebook page, over two tons of flour were sifted in advance of the Challah Bake.
Approximately 90 percent of South Africa’s synagogues joined in The Shabbos Project, according to Horwitz.
“There were many participating shuls in Johannesburg and Capetown and even shuls that are full on Friday night were fuller than they normally are, looking more like they do on Yom Kippur than on any Friday night,” said Horwitz.
While many of the weekend’s participants were not Orthodox, for 25 hours, they did their best to keep Shabbos according to halacha.
“Amazingly, the shul’s parking lots were empty and many kept a whole Shabbos for the first time,” observed Horwitz. “They kept asking us technical questions, like how to keep tea warm. It was phenomenal and went way beyond our wildest expectations.”
According to Horwitz practically every Shul in South Africa ran programs and dinners as part of The Shabbos Project, whose goal was to turn people on to Shabbos observance not by giving them a small taste of Shabbos but by immersing them completely in an entire Shabbos with all that it entails. Horwitz credited South Africa’s many rabbis for doing their part to share the beauty of Shabbos.
“Just about every Shul had programs and dinners,” said Horwitz. “In Stanton, one of the biggest centers of Jewish life in South Africa, you couldn’t even get a hotel room because so many people came in for this. The rabbis really ran with this and the next steps are crucial.”
Yeshiva University president, Richard Joel was one of many who came to South Africa to share in the unique experience.
“Throughout South Africa, the splendor of Shabbos was on display this past weekend as thousands heeded the Chief Rabbi’s invitation to make Shabbos their own,” said Joel.
Singer Shlomo Katz flew in from Israel to take part in The Shabbos Project, performing at a free open air Havdala concert. Katz estimated that approximately 5,000 people were present for Havdala.
“It was one of the most incredible moments that I have ever been privileged to witness in my life,” said Katz. “The simplicity of the outreach and the achdus were amazing. There were no gimmicks, no ulterior motives besides the yidden of South Africa keeping Shabbos together.”
Despite having been away from their cell phones and other distractions over Shabbos, Katz noted that as Havdala came, people were in no rush to reconnect with their devices or get back to their normal routines.
“No one was itching to get back to anything,” remarked Katz. “They were just living in the moment.”