As exams approached, and the stresses of a first year studying away from home began to catch up with me, I felt that time was definitely not in abundance. Shabbos had always been a time to take a step back from the stresses of day to day life, and truly reflect on what is important; spending uninterrupted time with family, discussing Torah thoughts around the dinner table, and finding a sense of pure spiritual connection in Shul. However, this close to exams, sacrificing an entire 25 hours seemed detrimental to my studies.
It was at this time that I received a “Weekly Shabbos Shiur” from a true role model and one of the most influential people in my life - David Levin. Dave and I have studied together many times after meeting six years at Bnei Akiva Machaneh. Through his unparalleled love for Torah, and a shared passion for music, he has encouraged me to open my eyes in a world which all too often fails to see the true beauty behind Judaism.
The shiur addressed a few ideas from that week’s Parsha of Lech Lecha, a Parsha I was familiar with, however this particular shiur seemed to be directed towards me. The key concept of the message, was that ‘One should not lose track of the bigger picture’. The shiur ended with a quote by Shannon L. Adler, “The secret to your purpose is to find what you feel is important, and not to pursue what others would think is important”. Like most pieces by my former madrich, David, this shiur made me stop and think. We have been given a brief 25 hour period each week, in which we rid ourselves of the distractions of day to day living and can deeply reflect on our relationship with G-d. Sacrificing this time for a few hours of university study now seemed senseless to me.
As a student from Durban, the “Chabad on Campus” movement at UCT has truly been a cornerstone for my Judaism to prosper in Cape Town, through its many learning programmes, Shabbos meals, meet and greet parties, and other student based activities. Consequently I didn’t think twice about asking Rabbi Nissen Goldman (Head of Chabad on Campus CT) to help me find accommodation in the hospitable community of the Southern Suburbs. The Rabbi graciously offered for me to spend Shabbos along with two other students in the Samson Student House, following a Friday night student Kabbalat Shabbat and supper at the same convenient venue. I was not surprised by the Rabbi’s offer, as the movement seems to grow day by day through his passion, with frequent lunch time shiurim and day visits to The University of Cape Town as well as Stellenbosch University.
The Friday night service was one of the most meaningful I have experienced as the small room of roughly 25 people felt like the grandest of shuls, singing through the familiar Kabbalat Shabbat songs in unison, everybody dovening with a sense of unity and spiritual connection. The young congregants were made up of people from all over the globe with entirely different backgrounds, students who grew up across South Africa and even three foreign exchange students from America, studying at UCT.
This personifies the true power of an idea such as the Shabbos Project, which hand in hand with the South African Jewry can unify people from all walks of life, by setting aside just one Shabbos to disconnect in order to truly connect! It’s about Jews embracing their heritage, through practices that will remain unchanged from the first Shabbos till the last.
Shabbos day brought with it good weather which greeted us on our walk to Claremont Wynberg Synagogue. The friendly community made us feel very welcome and the service was uplifted by the outstanding voices of guest Chazanim, Ezra Altschuler and Shmuli Brill, and was followed by an incredible brocha. It was admirable to see the lengths the congregation had gone to in order to enrich the Shabbos experience, and sustain this passion throughout the day, ending with a Havdallah concert.
The walk home filled with questions and discussion led to another delicious meal at the Samson Student House, and after an afternoon of fun and games, a Shabbos shloff was in order before Havdallah. And just like that, Shabbos was gone… 25 hours, previously thought of as an eternity, had gone in an instant. The six days before the next one was now the eternity, true perspective had been attained.
This Shabbos which initially was almost disregarded completely, proved to be one of the most meaningful I have experienced. In my eyes, it fully embodied the purpose of The Shabbos Project; revealing the joys of Shabbos, and the benefits that disconnecting, taking a step back, and discovering what seeing the bigger picture can do for you, particularly at the busiest of times. My hope is that Jews across the world use the medium of Shabbos as a means to cherish what truly matters to them.