JOHANNESBURG, October 29 – At the conclusion of this past week’s Shabbat Project, the hash-tagged pictures started appearing on the event’s website and social media around the world, showing hundreds of thousands of wildly enthusiastic people preparing for the coming of the Jewish Sabbath in a variety of innovative ways. With 924 cities engaged in 75 countries around the world, 2015’s Shabbat Project mobilized more than one million Jews worldwide.
Of all the hashtags generated by the initiative -- #challahbake; #shabbosproject; #greatbigchallahbake; #kneadingittogether; #havdalahconcert -- none was more compelling than #keepingittogether, which became a mantra for the project’s fully realized goal and a movement of sorts.
Jews around the world drew together for the Shabbat Project, from a 3,000-person Friday night dinner in Los Angeles to a Great Big Challah Bake in Brooklyn -- where a 20-foot loaf made the Guinness Book of World Records -- to a Shabbat Expo in Panama City and an intergenerational dance in Vienna.
Created two years ago in Johannesburg, the Shabbat Project quickly proved so popular that it spread across social media and grew into a global grassroots movement. This past weekend, it sparked thousands of local events, including synchronized challah baking, communal meals, prayer services, concerts heralding Havdalah (a ceremony marking the end of the Sabbath), and even weekend-long celebrations.
The original impetus for the project, created by Dr. Warren Goldstein, Chief Rabbi of South Africa, was to address the increasingly fragmented nature of modern life. “We are constantly pulled in different directions by distractions, demands and onerous responsibilities that pile up with increasing speed. We seldom get the chance to be truly present. In a world of fragmentation, Shabbat enters to offers us that chance to connect and unite as a community,” he said.
Promoted by acclaimed actress Mayim Bialik and superstar musician Matisyahu, as well as high-profile rabbis and members of Israel’s parliament, the Shabbat Project was an unprecedented phenomenon in nearly 1,000 cities worldwide, a significant uptick from last year.
In the aftermath of The Shabbat Project 2015, as the worldwide partner communities posted their photographs and stories on the project website, Rabbi Goldstein released a statement:
"The response from around the world has been overwhelming and heart-warming, and shows the remarkable depth and reach of The Shabbat Project. There has been a great outpouring of joy and excitement, with so many people touched in deeply personal ways. Such a visceral reaction demonstrates that the ideas of Jewish unity and Shabbat are compelling to Jews from all walks of life. From the reports that are emerging, it’s clear that there has been a significant increase in participation this year – and I am confident this social movement will continue to expand as more and more people taste the magic of Shabbat and experience the beauty of Jews coming together in a spirit of unity."
The website for The Shabbat Project features photographs and reports from Shabbat Project celebrations around the world. Pictures or information about local Shabbat Projects, and interviews with Rabbi Goldstein, are available upon request.
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