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Come hell or high water

by Simon Apfel

The Shabbat Project has really caught fire in Dallas, Texas. Abby Widom is one of the many Jews in the city to have felt its warm, welcoming glow. Last year, she decided to use the opportunity to keep Shabbat for the first time in her life. She got in touch with Rabbi Mayer Hurwitz – who has spearheaded The Shabbat Project in Dallas – and made arrangements to stay over at the Hurwitz’s house in order to make the process as easy and distraction-free as possible.

And then the storm hit.

The torrential downpour began on the Thursday night preceding the big Shabbat, and continued throughout the following day. A few weeks earlier, Abby had become a homeowner for the first time. When she left for work that Friday morning, things were pretty dire. By the time she returned, they had become apocalyptic.

Rain had seeped under the doors and through the walls and roof of her new townhouse, and the place was literally under water. She described how the Texas downpour had made it look like her walls and ceilings “were crying”. Perhaps out of solidarity, but more likely from sheer emotional exhaustion, she, too, broke down in tears.

Still in tears, Abby called the Hurwitz’s, explaining that her home had been completely flooded and she couldn’t make it for Shabbat. She seemed more upset about missing out on her Shabbat experience than about her home being under water.

After offering words of consolation, Rabbi Hurwitz’s wife, Elana, took the situation in hand, phoning around and getting Abby the help she needed.

The Texas Disaster Restoration team appeared at her house almost within half an hour of the call and got to work in earnest. After reassurances that her new home was in safe hands, she decided to wash her hands of the entire situation – for 25 hours.

Smiling through her tears, Abby rang the bell at the Hurwitz’s house... ready for her first full Shabbat experience.

That Shabbat, Jews throughout the city came forward to open up their homes. Perhaps most notably, Jackie and Bernie Dimont hosted a meal in their home for 137 young professionals – mainly Reform, Conservative and unaffiliated Jews. A number of them, like Abby Widom, went on to keep Shabbat for the first time in their lives.

“The event as a whole was a great success,” says Rabbi Hurwitz. “I think everyone was inspired and energised by the idea of the whole Jewish world keeping this Shabbat together.”

“The rain?” he shrugs. “Who cares about that?”

Simon Apfel

Simon Apfel was born into obscurity, the son of a frozen peas importer and a washing machine. His love of writing has always outshone his ability by a humiliating margin. Nevertheless, he has gone on to achieve some measure of success as a copywriter, journalist and occasional comedy writer. He studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the University of Cape Town, and has written for a variety of local and international publications. For the past five years, he has been chief writer to South Africa’s Chief Rabbi, and has worked extensively on the Shabbat Project, as well as a host of other projects initiated by Chief Rabbi Goldstein.

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