“It’s Friday night in Los Angeles. On Pico Boulevard, five blocks are closed to traffic. Los Angeles police officers secure the yellow ribbon-lined borders. Overhead, a police helicopter and drone circle the area’s airspace. On a rooftop above kosher restaurants and neighbourhood stores, police snipers are positioned. By the time the sun sets and the Jewish Sabbath begins, 300 tables are set with white tablecloths, disposable Shabbat dishes, grape juice and challah. The streets are magnificently lit up by large, strategically placed stadium light fixtures.” - Beth Firestone, a teacher and author from Los Angeles (writing in Aish.com).
It’s one of the most remarkable Shabbat Project events yet seen anywhere in the world.
On the night of 24 October 2015, LA’s heaving Pico Boulevard was shut down, as more than 3 000 people sat down to a Friday night Shabbat dinner billed as one of the biggest in history.
The numbers alone are staggering. The “Shabbat of Unity” dinner, also known as “Shabbat Project 3000”, saw 300 tables stretching the five city blocks between South Beverly Drive and Doheny Drive laid out with the finest Shabbat delicacies. Another 500 people arrived after dinner to continue the festivities. The event was overseen by 20 LAPD officers, 20 neighbourhood watch representatives, several Hatzolah personnel and 70 private security officers.
Shia Altman, who first heard about the initiative a week before, said he felt “some kind of excitement in the air, a kind of electricity”.
“The gathering included young and old, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, observant and non-observant alike,” said Shia. “There were rows and rows of tables as far as the eye could see. There was hand-shaking and greetings of ‘Shabbat Shalom’ between people who knew each other and between many who did not. Spontaneous dancing erupted before the meal as participants snaked their way around the tables. The event fully lived up to its ‘unity’ billing.”
Beth Firestone called it “breathtaking in size and scope”.
“Imagine 3 000 Jews, eating a Shabbat meal, singing Shalom Aleichem, making Kiddush, spontaneously breaking into song and dance, and walking from table to table getting to know each other. It was orderly, it was holy and it was unifying.”
Seeing so many different Jews together in such high spirits, Pico-Robertson resident Aliza Marton said she “completely lost it”.
“I just started crying. We sat with a non-religious family from a different synagogue, who we had never met. We all bensched out loud, together. You felt so proud in that environment.”
Real estate developer Josh Golcheh was the young mastermind behind Shabbat Project 3000. An active member of MyAish, the Sephardic wing of Aish LA, Josh had initially envisioned a Shabbaton at Nessah Sephardic Synagogue, and had hoped to attract 1 000 people for dinner and lunch. “We had food for 1 000,” says Josh. “We’d only sold 500 tickets two weeks before. I kept on going, praying we’d get the numbers.”
They got the numbers. And then some more numbers. By the end, Josh was presiding over an event of almost mythical proportions.
“I believe that in life, if you do the right thing, your desires will happen,” he explains. “Bringing Jews of different backgrounds together is an amazing idea, whatever your level of observance. And especially now, with everything going on in the world, it’s a perfect time to come together to show we’re stronger, and that no amount of terror can take away Shabbat or Jewish unity.”