Nov 17, 2017

From the field 2017

To co-ordinate the initiative on a global scale, the head office in Johannesburg worked with more than 8 000 partners worldwide – up from 6 000 partners in 2016.

Event reports and personal stories continue to stream in from all over the world, and while we work to consolidate all of the information, here is what some of our partners are saying:

“I helped organise 17 Challah Bakes throughout Florida. Considering Florida had recently suffered from Hurricane Irma, it is amazing that any events actually materialised. Many people were without power and air conditioning for weeks after the storm. Then we went right into the Jewish holidays. We had an entire state of ‘exhausted’ people. But Floridians mustered their best efforts and pulled off 17 sold-out inspirational Challah Bakes, each with their own special flair.”

Alyssa Baumgarten, Miami, USA

“We had an amazing, highly emotional Shabbat and people literally shed tears. Nearly 400 people took part in the event held on the main road of the yishuv. The participants were young and old. Elderly Holocaust survivors and senior citizens mixed with children of five. Observant Jews joined with non-observant Jews. Everyone sat in silence when the rabbi of the Yishuv said Kiddush. Tears streamed from a group of women who, for nearly 30 years, had not heard Kiddush and had not experienced an atmosphere and a group of Jews like on this holy day. A Holocaust survivor was completely overcome with emotion. It was an extraordinary event that left no one untouched.”

Etti Cohen, Bnei Ayish, Israel

“A remarkable Shabbat in Camps Bay. Nine new families keeping Shabbat. One woman said, ‘This is great – I could do this every week.’ At our communal lunch, while we were singing, 96-year-old Holocaust survivor Ella Blumenthal got up on her chair and started dancing. There were two kids who walked five kilometres through to neighbouring Sea Point to attend a friend’s bar mitzvah. A few families made arrangements to stay close by, renting airbnb apartments or staying at friends, just so they could walk to shul.”

Rabbi Yochi Ziegler, Cape Town, South Africa

“This last Sunday I witnessed two incredible Challah Bakes. They were amazing events which created a truly unique and exquisite atmosphere. One of togetherness, unity and celebration. With The Shabbat Project, besides enjoying big events which are fun and exciting, we are tapping into an innate desire that we have to connect to one another. This connection runs deep. We are one people with one heart. Going forward, the energy created through these events must translate into an organic movement of people reaching out one to another and coming together in a more intimate space to not only do together and dance together, but to talk together.”

Rabbi Nitzan Bergman, Baltimore, USA

“We had 29 at the Friday night service and 32 at the Shabbat dinner. Many of the congregants walked home from shul after the dinner, despite cold and drizzly weather. There were also 17 women at the Challah Bake. Considering there are only 52 souls in our community, some of whom are old and infirm, the turnout was amazing! As our community is very small, we all know each other very well – we are a very warm, close-knit community, and the spirit of friendship and belonging was palpable. We all felt the power of being together for this very special Shabbat. Everyone did their bit, be it baking challah, helping with the catering and decorating tables, making up the minyan, and being part of the whole experience.”

Elsa Roth, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

“A full Shabbat programme in Malmö, including a Challah Bake, Kabbalat Shabbat, Friday night dinner, Shabbat lunch, and a special shul service led by the children. It was wonderful to see people who had never been to shul before. We had 52 in the evening and 60 during the day, including 20 children. We also had 15 at the Challah Bake held in our home, which was intimate and really special. The community members were appreciative of the effort and really felt that this is something that they would like to do more often. They felt that our little Shabbaton connected us to all the other participating communities around the world.”

Rabbi Moshe David HaCohen, Malmö, Sweden

“We had 400+ women at our Challah Bake, where there was a tremendous feeling of unity among women from all levels of observance and affiliation. We then had around 90 college students and young adults join us for an entire Shabbos at a Shabbaton. There was great spirit throughout: singing, dancing, camaraderie. The Shabbaton was held in a big tent outdoors, and despite temperatures in the low 30s, the tent was full of warmth and good cheer!”

Adam Crystal, Minneapolis, USA

“I think that those who participated experienced a different Shabbat, with their families and with others, and the desire and energy put into it, made them different. We were all very happy, because not only did we fulfil such an important mitzvah, but those who had never participated in a Shabbat before wanted to learn: the steps of a Shabbat dinner, pronouncing all the brachot to bless their children, singing, eating together, studying the parsha, etc. This was a beautiful experience that people will surely replicate each Shabbat in their homes.”

Moche Wajcer, Corrientes, Argentina

"There were 96 people – 27 Russian-speaking families with children ranging from age five to 16 – celebrating Shabbat together. Most were unobservant and unaffiliated; this is the one and only time a year they get a chance to experience Shabbat. We had two Russian-speaking rabbis with their own families leading the event. A number of the participants asked afterwards whether smaller-scale community Shabbat experiences could be recreated on a monthly basis. This was a very special experience for everyone involved.”

Leonid Vayner, Brooklyn, USA

"Everyone came. We all live in the same neighborhood but we don’t know each other. It was very beautiful to come together like this. Those not accustomed to Shabbat observance arrived with apprehension and stayed on the side. But after Kiddush, the talking began. In the end, they were actually happy to be invited and the next year they also want to help organise the event! That's the most amazing thing in my eyes.”  

Sara Hanani, Sderot, Israel

“We had 850 people from all over Atlanta at the Challah Bake – a complete sell-out and a great atmosphere. The wonderfully diverse crowd included a 92-year-old woman who had never before made challah. Feedback has been so positive. Someone told me they walked into the gym and just got a very warm, comforting feeling.”

Robyn Regenbaum, Atlanta, USA

“In Lima, we had 240 people attend a Challah Bake at a local school. After sifting 600 kilos of flour to make hundreds of loaves, we spontaneously broke out into Rikudim [Israeli folk dancing]. The best part was seeing all the photos afterwards – the feeling of joy in the faces of all the women doing this sacred Jewish rite. This was our fourth year participating and we have put together the proceeds of all four Challah Bakes to create a special app with Jewish classes to educate the community.”

Fanny Levy, Lima, Peru

“There were 350 at a sold-out joint Friday night service bringing together two local Conservative and Orthodox communities. Really great Shabbat atmosphere, an inspirational guest speaker, and a diverse crowd of all ages and backgrounds. Everyone loved it.”

Tova Zussman, Denver, USA

“We had 700 at a Colorado Challah Bake. It was all about unity. There were women in the room who’d never baked a challah a day in their life. There were women who bake every Friday. There were multiple generations. All different denominations and friends from across the spectrum. Every demographic you could think of within a community – we had it in that room.”

Talia Haykin, Denver, USA

“We made Kiddush, we ate, danced, sang at the Shabbat table with 40 students from ages 16 to 25. We celebrated well into the night.”

Lavi Olami, Budapest, Hungary

“In LA, there were an incredible 13 Challah Bakes. Countless dinners, lunches, gatherings, programmes. With all the advertising efforts and participation all around the city, we touched approximately 20 000 Jews.”

Nisa Felps, Baltimore, USA

“In the small coastal community of Cancun, we had 100 women at the Challah Bake, and 70 at our Friday night event, many of whom put aside their normal weekend activities and kept a full Shabbat. Some stayed in a hotel close to the shul, others walked far distances to shul. At the end, during Havdallah, some people sang and danced, others cried.”  

Yohana Alvarado, Cancun, Mexico

“Meyerland Minyan is in the Heart of the Jewish Community of Houston, Texas. Some of our congregants were flooded out of their homes four times in the last 27 months. Around 30 of our families sustained flooding during Hurricane Harvey, on 27 August. Thankfully, our new shul that we moved into last year right before Rosh Hashanah did not sustain any damage. It has been the safe haven for our members and friends to come for hot meals and the distribution centre for food, clothing, cleaning supplies, toiletries, bedding, and small appliances over the last few months. We were happy to host over 70 people for Shabbos! The Shabbat Project brought in a wide spectrum of families and individuals to spend Shabbos in a warm and welcoming environment. I’m just so grateful that Meyerland Minyan was able to celebrate The Shabbat Project with our friends and family around the world!”

Myra Weisfeld, Houston, USA

“At our Challah Bake we had a ‘Shabbos Shuk’ to add more Jewish education to the programme. We had vendors teaching the parsha and about mikvah, we had cholent-and-wine-tasting, we gave out Shabbos candles, and had Shabbat-related Jewish art and Judaica on sale. It was incredible. More than 600 women came, 90% unobservant and completely unaffiliated. Coaches invited their tables for dinner. We had a number of people keep their first Shabbat. They had a great time and want to do it again!”

Robin Meyerson, Phoenix, USA

“The women and girls from across the island arrived before candle lighting and we all lit together. Many had never lit before. The children had a special programme during Kabbalat Shabbat. Afterwards, we celebrated with an amazing meal made by a variety of women from our community – there was Moroccan, Ashkenazi, Tripoli foods. It was very colourful and tasty. We had 100 people for Friday night and many of them returned the next day.”

Shaindel Raskin, Larnaca, Cyprus

“It’s been the most amazing ShabbatUK. We estimate that there have been over 50 000 challot made at over 100 challah makes, gracing the tables at probably more than 350 events from Glasgow in the north of the UK to Plymouth in the south – and everywhere in between.”

Andrea Passe, London, UK

“Spontaneous dancing at Kabbalat Shabbat, passionate singing at the Havdallah Concert. It was amazing to have so many people. An inspirational experience.”

Ori Bergman, Buffalo, USA

“We held a Seudah Shlishit gathering in Jerusalem for young professionals from really diverse backgrounds. The Shabbat Project is proof you can take a group of people who otherwise would not have been together and, in the right atmosphere, create unity and cohesiveness.”

Benjy Singer, Jerusalem, Israel

“The feeling that was created when the community came together in celebration of Shabbat made you feel a deep sense of belonging, that you are a part of something bigger than yourself, your family or even your Sydney community.”

Lauren Kavnat, Sydney, Australia

"The Jeff Seidel Be'er Sheva Center had the privilege of hosting almost 50 young english-speaking olim for Friday night dinner. For around half of the participants, it was the first time they had participated in The Shabbos Project. During dinner, as we went around the room, we saw the incredible diversity that was present. On the Shabbat of Parshat Lech Lecha, Jews from all over the world had left their homes, like our father, Avraham Aveinu, to come to the City of Be'er Sheva.”

Danielle Litt-Halpern, Beersheba, Israel

“The Shabbat Project was everywhere. Posters were seen in Jewish restaurants and supermarkets, schools and synagogues. Weekly email messages were sent through schools and community Web pages with tips for Shabbat and reminding people of the activities to come. WhatsApp messages spread pictures of Shabbat Project committees working, people with signs of The Shabbat Project logo, videos of activities at schools. We invited also the small community of Boquete, near the border with Costa Rica, to participate in the project, which they did, bringing the magic of ‘kneading together’ and a special Kabbalat Shabbat to that part of the country for the first time. Our Challah Bake drew a record 1 250 women. The success of the event – held 10 days before the big Shabbat – was the best advertising for all other activities. Families invited guests; there were communal dinners with more than 100 people; teachers from one school invited their students for dinner in their homes; neighbours in one apartment building decided to have Shabbat dinner together; synagogues were full of new faces. To end off our most successful Shabbat Project yet, we held a Havdallah Concert for the first time, with more than 1 000 people in attendance. After such success, we have already started working on next year’s Shabbat Project.”

Daniela Lowinger, Panama City, Panama

“The sold-out Challah Bake attracted 600 women and girls. The attendees, of varying levels of observance and affiliation to Judaism, entered a transformed Lake Terrace – complete with an oversized heart made entirely of challah and bathed in candlelight. After a spirited burst of dancing closed out the evening, 600 women braided their challahs and headed for home. Some left with Shabbat guests, some with Shabbat invitations, some with new braiding techniques, and some with newfound, fledgling relationships – but every single one departed with two loaves of challah and a hearty dose of inspiration. The event may have lasted a few short hours, but the camaraderie, passion, discovery, unity, perspective, and pride in our heritage will live on indefinitely. One particularly moving anecdote came from the administrator of an assisted living facility. One of the residents attended the Challah Bake and baked challah for the first time in her life; she raved enthusiastically about the night, saying it was ‘one of the top experiences of her whole life’.”

Sara Boxer, Jersey Shore, USA

“There were almost 400 participants. It was an incredible atmosphere. There were different types of people from different backgrounds: adults, youth, families, students. They were all excited and said it was amazing to see that for the first time, there was such a Shabbat atmosphere in Dimona, with all the Jewish symbols: challah, flowers, wine, a Kiddush cup, Shabbat songs – there was no such thing in Dimona before. Many people said they felt exuberant; the event was like a ‘charge’ filled with energy, and the fact that it was part of something big and not just happening in Dimona gave the event a different meaning.”

Ma'ayan Eliasaf, Dimona, Israel

“The idea was just hatched a few days before and we only had a short amount of time to get the word out, but the power of social media kicked in and we had a full house of guests, many who haven't had a Shabbos lunch in years, some in decades. It was incredible, the feeling of warmth and love, the food and the singing, the togetherness. When people were leaving you could tell that they had just experienced what it meant to be Jewish on Shabbos. And it wasn't anything crazy or out of the ordinary. Just friends, old and new, sitting together with no cell phone, eating good food, talking with each other and, most importantly, listening. After everyone had gone, I realised something – that while I was trying to show the guests what Shabbos could mean to them, everyone that was there showed me what Shabbos meant to me. And for that, I'm grateful.”

Elan Kornblun, Brooklyn, USA

"On Friday night there was activity that brought together around 50 members of the Bnei Akiva and Tzofim (scouts) youth movements. After some ice-breaker games, there were circles of discussion, and great, healthy ideological debates as we got to understand each other better. We want to get together like this more often.”

Avital, Kiryat Gat, Israel

“Four years ago we had just 200 participants, so we are very happy that the numbers are growing each year. This year our goal was over 500 and we were thrilled to achieve that. The spectacle of so many people, old and young, from all over Seattle, streaming into the community centre was quite a sight to see. We heard that the freeway exit was backed up for miles as cars arrived at the venue. There was such a buzz as people connected with old friends and made new friends. Our theme was ‘Generation to Generation’. We paid tribute to the oldest person at last year’s Challah Bake, who unfortunately passed away during the year, and we welcomed our future challah bakers with a video of children from different preschools making challah. The feeling of knowing that we were participating in the same project with Jewish communities all over the world was so powerful.”

Beryl Cohen, Seattle, USA

“We managed to bring most of the participants from the city’s two synagogues to pray in one minyan, which was really nice. There were many parents and children from the local Jewish school who don’t normally participate in Shabbat services. The synagogue was full. Having over 100 people at each of our services was unprecedented.”

Irena Nemcova, Prague, Czech Republic

“Fifty years ago, most Jewish women, no matter how far removed they were from Judaism, lit Shabbos candles, which is perhaps why many conjure the image of a woman lighting candles as the emblem of Judaism. Nowadays, for whatever reason, many Jewish women do not light. But for The Shabbos Project, we dared to attempt something tremendous: to encourage every Jewish household in Charleston to light Shabbos candles in honour of The Shabbos Project. Despite the simplicity of the idea, I feared that like other initiatives we’ve tried to encourage, it wouldn’t catch on. I was pleasantly surprised when many of the other Jewish organisations and synagogues in town agreed to encourage their congregants to join in. I was even more excited when a group of women came up to me in shul to tell me they had decided to join our initiative and bring in Shabbos with candles. A number of them admitted they had lit many years ago, but, for whatever reason, had stopped lighting. One woman told me she would need to dust off her grandmother’s candlesticks, but she was excited to bring this mitzvah to her home once more. Many spoke with nostalgia about watching their grandmothers light and the beauty it had brought to the home. These women were from across the spectrum of the Jewish community – Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, unaffiliated – and their messages have infused me with hope that maybe we can really bring candle lighting back to our community.”

Ariela Davis, Charleston, USA

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