Many thought leaders say the Jewish community is torn by dissension and that we should work on ways to build ahavat Israel and understanding across differences. The Shabbat Project, which coincided with Friday evening, October 24th, 2014 until sundown on Saturday evening, October, 25th, 2014 was the most profound example in recent history of Jewish unity.
The concept behind The Shabbat Project, the brainchild of the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Rabbi Warren Goldstein, is deceptively simple: Jews of all walks of life, from across the spectrum – religious, secular and traditional, young and old, from all corners of the world – unite to experience one full Shabbat together. The Shabbat Project, introduced in South Africa in 2013 exceeded all expectations when close to 70 percent of the country’s 75,000 Jews kept Shabbat in full accordance with halakha, most for the first time in their lives.
In the aftermath of the resounding success of The Shabbat Project in South Africa, hundreds of Jews from around the world wrote to Rabbi Goldstein indicating their desire to bring the initiative to their own cities and communities. In response to this popular demand, The International Shabbat Project soon became the most ambitious Jewish unity initiative ever undertaken, and last year nearly 465 cities in more than 65 countries took part.
I think it’s important to note, as a kind of case study, that Rabbi Goldstein underscores the fact that The Shabbat Project is not merely about performing a symbolic gesture to acknowledge Shabbat, but rather about keeping it in full. In the words of Rabbi Goldstein, “the idea that the real energy of Shabbat – its transformative power – is wholly dependent on immersing oneself in the full Shabbat experience. I am aware that the unaffiliated 20-somethings we all fret over do not always relate to an orthodox life style, but there is something undeniably spiritual and joyous in going ’all-in’ – even as an anthropological experiment or to get a taste of real community and peace – that a pure Shabbat lends itself to young people (and all people) responding because Shabbat is authentic and substantive and joyous.”
Being that I hail from South Africa, together with the fact that I have been fortunate over the past 20 years to be involved in a number of Jewish initiatives in America on a national level, it soon became apparent to me that I was in a unique position to become a conduit to bring The International Shabbat Project to America and specifically my home town, Los Angeles.
The proverbial ‘heavy lifting’ began in earnest in August last year after I reached out to representatives of every major outreach organization in Los Angles to attend a brain-storming meeting to include and prepare the various constituencies of the LA Jewish community to become proud hosts of The International Shabbat Project.
Thanks to the incredible efficiency of The Shabbat Project team in Johannesburg, who provided a user-friendly “turn-key” media package which could be customized by each of the different organizations/Shuls involved, the foundation was laid for LA to become one of the cities ready and able to host the project.
If the Wexner network were to look at The International Shabbat Project from the proverbial balcony, I think one obvious reason it is so successful is its clarity: people are asked to plan three simple yet brilliant events: a challah-baking evening exclusively for women on Thursday evening, a community Shabbat lunch on the Shabbat itself and, finally, a ‘Havdalah Concert’ after Shabbat on Saturday evening.
As ironic as it may sound, after spending countless hours on phone calls, e-mails and meetings in order to ensure that all the pieces were put in place so that Los Angeles would be ready for the October launch, I was unexpectedly approached to be the guest speaker at The International Shabbat Project in Atlanta. Since Atlanta’s Havdalah Concert included “8th Day,” one of the most popular American Chasidic pop rock bands, and I speak frequently at large venues, I could not say no! Truth be told, when that special Shabbat eventually rolled around, it soon became apparent that whether I was physically in Los Angeles or Atlanta was almost irrelevant … everyone seemed to share the same sentiment. We were all participating in one unbelievable global Shabbat in which one million people bore testimony to the fact that at the end of the day “more than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.”
I know some of my Wexner “chevreh” in San Diego also helped bring this to their city and would be delighted to learn of other alumni who are involved or would like to explore bringing The Shabbat Project to your community. I would be happy to spearhead a “Steering Committee” of Wexner alumni to help facilitate logistics, host conference calls (even potentially with the Chief Rabbi in South Africa) so that things are streamlined and so that creative ideas can be shared and leveraged. The next annual International Shabbat Project will be on Shabbat, October 23rd and 24th, 2015. Please feel free to respond below or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From his days as a stand-up comic in Johannesburg, South Africa, to organizing a major music concert while a student at the Harvard Law School, to becoming a private wealth manager for some of the most prominent athletes and wealthiest families in the world, Antony Gordon, a Wexner Heritage alum (LA II), has become one of the most sought-after presenters/lecturers by a wide range of organizations. Since graduating from the Wexner Heritage Program, Antony has also received Rabbinical Ordination in Jerusalem and launched a boutique Sports Advisory Firm. Antony can be reached at email@example.com.