Shabbat spirit spreads across Australia

Shabbat spirit spreads across Australia

FROM more than 5000 people baking challahs to the same number celebrating havdalah, with hundreds attending dinners, lunches, kiddushes, shul services, picnics, talks and everything in between, Australian Jews made history this week as they joined Jewish communities around the globe for the world’s first ever Shabbat Project.

With events organised in more than 200 cities worldwide, the initiative drew participants from all levels of observance and all walks of life, from celebrities such as Paula Abdul and Mayim Bialik, to senior politicians such as former US vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, all committed to “keeping it together”.

From humble beginnings in South Africa last year, the project rapidly grew to accommodate Jewish communities in Latin America, North America, Europe and Asia, where organisers and revered rabbis spent months preparing an unforgettable line up of events.

In Australia, schools, shuls and communal organisations signed up to host engaging discussions and fun activities for children and adults where conversation, laughter and food were aplenty.

Melbourne Shabbat project coordinator Rabbi Moshe Kahn said there was a “buzz and energy” and the atmosphere was “unreal.”

“The Shabbat was amazing … You walked through the streets of Caulfield and you just knew something was different. There were so many people around and it generated this extraordinary energy in the air”.

Rabbi Kahn said the highlights were the challah bake and the community havdalah service complete with a fireworks display. “Thousands of people singing Am Yisrael Chai at the Havdalah ceremony was extraordinary.”

Sydney’s organiser Rabbi Benji Levy estimated that “around 20,000 people in Sydney were touched by the project – per capita one of the most successful in the entire world as well as the only large community to our knowledge that included every single communal organisation regardless of affiliation”.

Stating the initiative exceeded the committee’s “wildest expectations”, he noted that “grassroots activities were bursting from the seams with shuls increasing on average at about 500 per cent” and with hundreds attending the various events laid on around the city.

“This was truly for the community, by the community,” he said, adding next year’s Shabbat Project will be “even bigger and better”.

Canberra’s Rabbi Alon Meltzer said that the city’s small yet committed community came together for a special weekend.

“We had a really beautiful Shabbat with the challah bake, a Shabbat day with a cholent kiddush where everyone sat down to talk and laugh and partake in Shabbos together”.

Rabbi Meltzer has hopes that Canberra can build off the momentum that Sydney and Melbourne ­generated for next year’s event.

“Hopefully we’ll see more excitement come our way with some of the resources that Melbourne and Sydney were able to utilise.”

In Townsville, James Cook University student Ari Isman said that 11 students spent the 25 hour period together, sharing stories and playing board games.

“We laughed the whole time … It was a memorable day together and we really felt that we were part of the wider Jewish Australian and international community.”

Perth Hebrew Congregation’s Rabbi Dovid Freilich described the small community’s participation as a “great success” but promises that next year will be more “impressive.”

“For a small community it went very well, people became aware of the Shabbat … It was small but significant.”

He said the Perth challah bake was “exceptional” and a “tremendous success” as more than 250 women and children joined in for the Wednesday evening event.

However, Rabbi Freilich has his reservations about the project itself, suggesting that Jews should focus on one aspect of Shabbat and build on that every year, rather than observe it in one king hit only once a year.

“The world wasn’t created in one day and so we should keep Shabbat bit by bit.

“It is very practical and you can build on one aspect and then graduate to another step of keeping Shabbat the next year,” he said.


Havdalah celebrations in Sydney’s Alexandria on Saturday night. Photo: Ingrid Shakenovsky

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