Monday, October 06, 2014

Keeping it Together

Paula Abdul with her fellow judges on American Idol
Who’d a thunk it. Rock and Roll singer/dancer and former American Idol judge, Paula Abdul is participating in The Shabbat Project. For those unfamiliar with it, The Shabbat Project is the brainchild of Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, Chief Rabbi of South Africa. Last year on Shabbos of October 12th, the entire Jewish population of South Africa was invited to keep Shabbos.  From VIN:

(The Shabbat Project) was a mass effort for the country’s Jews to embrace their heritage with a traditional Shabbos observance lasting from sundown on October 11th until nightfall on October 12th.
The project’s manifesto urged Jewish South Africans to remove themselves from the distractions and pressures of daily life and to keep one Shabbos according to the strictures set out in the Shulchan Aruch.
In preparation for the event, The Shabbos Project’s website offered numerous resources, including a Shabbos primer for those who are new to Shabbos observance and a Shabbos toolkit which included a Shabbos checklist, audio clips of prayers and zemiros, stories and divrei Torah.  The site also offered participants the opportunity to find a shiur, a coach and a Shabbos host.
Surpriningly (at least for me) the event was a smashing success. From VIN:
Approximately 90 percent of South Africa’s synagogues joined in The Shabbos Project…
“There were many participating shuls in Johannesburg and Capetown and even shuls that are full on Friday night were fuller than they normally are, looking more like they do on Yom Kippur than on any Friday night,”
While many of the weekend’s participants were not Orthodox, for 25 hours, they did their best to keep Shabbos according to halacha.
“Amazingly, the shul’s parking lots were empty and many kept a whole Shabbos for the first time...” “They kept asking us technical questions, like how to keep tea warm.  It was phenomenal and went way beyond our wildest expectations.”
Although I am surprised that so many people were willing to give up the technology they are so attached to - by keeping Shabbos, the truth is that I am not shocked by it. Shabbos has an appeal to the non religious. In fact it has an appeal even to the non Jewish. The by-product of keeping Shabbos is a tremendous attraction for people who value the concept of family. I can’t tell you the number of times I have described a typical Shabbos day to a non Jew who reacted with genuine envy.  Ironically it is the very strictures of Shabbos that on the surface would seem to be a turn off that facilitate it. Being unplugged and not being able to travel in any mode other than by foot, keeps people at home or nearby.

There is a religious requirement for a meal called the Sabbath Seudah. There ar 2 of those, One in the evening at the onset of Shabbos and one the next day at about lunch time.  (There is a dispute about whether there is a requreiment for a 3rd Shabbos meal – but that is beyond the scope of the post.)

Here is how it’s done in our house – which I’m sure is duplictaed (with some minor variations) in most observant homes. We prepare for Shabbos by cleaning up and getting dressed in our Shabbos clothing. (For men that usually means a suit and tie). Men go to Shul for a short evening service and return to house, where the Shabbos candles have already been lit just prior to sunset.

In most cases the table is set with table linens, our best china, flatware,  a wine goblet, and 2 Challahs.We make Kiddush (sanctifying the day) over wine, and then proceed to eat a multi course meal with our family. There is no ability to be distracted by the pull of modern technology or any of the social media. That facilitates family bonding time unlike any other scenario. Week after week.

There is no rush to get out and ‘go somewhere’. Everyone just enjoys each other’s company, the conversation,  and the festive meal itself. And that’s just the beginning. There is so much more to Shabbos, as most people that observe it already know. But that is not the point of this post.

I think it is the sense of family and Jewish heritage that made this project so popular. The success of the event in South Africa demonstrates (at least to me) that there is a hunger for knowledge about one’s Jewish heritage.  (Even and perhaps especially with secular Jews - at least in South Africa).

They must believe that heritage lies with the Jewish denomination most closely associated with observance, Orthodoxy.  90% participation by secular Jewry in a ‘Halachic Shabbos’ is illustrative of that fact. It was after all an Orthodox Rabbi who initiated the project and it seems that the vast majority of South African Jewry seemed to eagerly embrace it.

The project was so successful that it is being tried here and all over the world. The date is October 25th (beginning at sundown October 24th). This is quite an ambitious project. I’m not sure there will be 90% participation this time. But I don’t think we should underestimate the importance of this event and the power of Shabbos. I believe that this event will show more people than ever the beauty of Shabbos via their participation in it. The Shabbat Project has a website with some guidelines for anyone who wants to join.

I have to say that Rabbi Goldstein is an inspiring figure… a walking talking Kiddush HaShem. He exemplifies what being a Jewish leader is all about.  One may recall his name from his participation in the eulogies given for Nelson Mandela at his funeral. He was the first one to speak. And he did so very eloquently.

There are those who may be cynical about this project – even among the most religious. I suppose that keeping one Shabbos alone does not make one observant. It is relatively easy to try it out just to see what it’s like. Anyone can try something different once – knowing that they will go back to business as usual next week. Big deal if they keep one Shabbos.

I suppose that’s true up to a point. But even though I too am a cynic at heart, I can’t help the feeling that there will be some - perhaps even many Jews that will enjoy the experience so much that they will be inspired to investigate observant Judaism further. With the recent Pew study showing a massive rate of intermarriage rate  and a Jewish population in decline in every segment other than Orthodoxy, this can only be a plus. A big one.

The following video came as quite a surprise to me, too. Paula Abdul  - who is  not known for her commitment to Halacha to say the least - is going to participate in the Shabbos Project. In fact I only found out she was Jewish when I read about her recent journey to Israel. It appears that she too is exploring her roots. And you never know where that can lead. Both for her and for Klal Yisroel.

Hat tip: Jewish Press