The Shabbos Project: Bringing the Day of Rest to Jews Across the World
There is a famous saying: “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.”
This couldn’t be truer. Shabbat brings Jewish families and friends together every week. It gives Jewish people a chance to refresh and recharge for the week ahead, especially in difficult times. And it encourages Jews to live near each other so they can establish synagogues and community centers, as well as attend meals and services every Friday and Saturday.
The Shabbos Project, a global organization that holds Shabbos events for Jews in over 1,300 cities and 95 countries in eight languages around the world, is holding its annual events during the week of October 23 this year.
Jews are given the opportunity to participate in community Challah Bakes, attend Shabbat dinners in their neighborhoods, or host their own meals in honor of the celebration. In 2016, more than a million Jews took part.
Founded in 2013 by the Chief Rebbetzin of South Africa Gina Goldstein and her husband, Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, the goal of the organization is simply to encourage all kinds of Jews, no matter their age, denomination, or background, to keep one full, halachic Shabbos. For one day, they will not check their phones, get into cars, go shopping, or perform other forbidden weekday activities.
During the four years that The Shabbos Project has existed, Rebbetzin Goldstein said she has seen what a positive effect one Shabbos can have on a person. “After keeping Shabbos, hundreds of stories poured in from friends, about how they felt they had reconnected with family, with Hashem, and even with themselves,” she said. “Because Shabbos offers us so many things we can’t access on regular weekdays.”
For instance, Lana Wilder of Arizona attended the Great Arizona Challah Bake in 2014. At the time, she was an unaffiliated Jew with three daughters, and she was married to a non-Jew.
When she stepped into the room where women were baking the holy bread, she said, “It literally sent shivers down my spine. I felt pride and awe and an overwhelming sense of love. And at that moment I realized that I had the obligation to maintain that 4,000-year-old chain connecting my children back through Sinai to Sarah and the other matriarchs.”
Wilder was inspired to take on more practice because of that one Shabbos. Today, her husband is converting to Judaism and they are both living an observant Jewish lifestyle with their children.
Marilynn Yarbrough of Michigan had felt a yearning to keep Shabbat. When she saw that a local Shabbos Project event was happening in her neighborhood back in 2014, she told her husband and daughter she wanted to attend. “This was my opportunity to finally break it to my family that I really wanted to experience a full Shabbat, and be more deeply connected to Judaism in general.”
At her first Challah Bake, she and her daughter met a cousin on her mother’s side. No one from her family had seen or spoken to her cousin’s family in years. Yarbrough then went to a bar mitzvah six weeks later, and in walked that same cousin. The cousin had recently gotten engaged and invited Yarbrough to her wedding. From there, she met even more cousins, and was invited to another family wedding.
In 2016, Yarbrough put together a big Challah Bake table with her friends and family members, and she and her daughter are now keeping Shabbat. “We enjoy inviting people into our home to join us for the Shabbat experience,” she said. “Together, we are learning things gradually. This is what Shabbat – even one Shabbat – can do.”
Every year, The Shabbos Project continues to grow. According to Rebbetzin Goldstein, it has become a social movement and “a cultural shift that puts Shabbat back at the center of Jewish life. Of course, we can’t change the world in one day or in one year. It’s a cumulative process, but year-by-year, we are confident we will see a shift in the way people relate to Shabbat and, by extension, to what it means to be a Jew.”
She continued, “It has been a privilege to see it unfold [and to] to witness the power of Shabbat take hold in the lives of so many Jews and whole Jewish communities around the world.”