newsIsrael at War

Citizens of 100 countries join Shabbat Project, show solidarity with Israel

An organizer in San Diego told JNS that she broke down crying but is certain “that we’re going to get through this.”

Lighting candles for those killed during the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks in southern Israel at a Shabbat marketplace in San Diego, part of the 10th annual Shabbat Project, Nov. 3, 2023. Credit: Courtesy.
Lighting candles for those killed during the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks in southern Israel at a Shabbat marketplace in San Diego, part of the 10th annual Shabbat Project, Nov. 3, 2023. Credit: Courtesy.

Earlier this month, Jews in more than 1,500 cities in 100 countries participated in an event in solidarity with Israel.

The gatherings on Nov. 3-4 were supposed to be the 10th anniversary of the International Shabbat Project, which Warren Goldstein, chief rabbi of South Africa, founded in 2013. But after Hamas’s terror attacks against Israel on Oct. 7, Goldstein and colleagues decided to refocus the event.

Instead, they directed the project “entirely towards helping to strengthen and unify the Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora at this time of war,” he told JNS. This year’s message was: “Keeping it together for Israel.”

“Our overriding goal was to harness the power and reach of Shabbat to uplift and unify the Jewish people, emotionally and spiritually, and to strengthen faith and morale at this unimaginably difficult time,” added Goldstein.

Shabbat Project events worldwide “are a statement that we the Jewish people refuse to be defined by the hatred of our enemies,” the chief rabbi said.

As a “grim battle for survival rages on,” public Shabbat celebrations “affirm our right to live as Jews, to be who we are, to celebrate our values with pride and confidence,” the rabbi added.

There were 1,594 events run in North America by nearly 900 partners in every city with a Jewish community, according to Goldstein.

Temima High School students prepare flowers for Block Party Kiddush at Beth Jacob Atlanta, which took place during the Shabbat Project. Credit: Courtesy of Beth Jacob Atlanta.

‘We’re keeping it together’

In Denver, the synagogue Aish of the Rockies and The Jewish Experience community center held multiple events, including challah bakes, Shabbat dinners, study groups, synagogue services and a musical Havdalah ceremony, all conducted with pictures of and prayers for the release of the hostages and for Israel’s safety.

“It’s super-important that as Americans and as Jews, we band together and are unified during this time,” Nechama Siderson told JNS. (Her husband, Menachem Siderson, is the synagogue’s rabbi.)

Siderson noted how important unity is amid such challenging times.

“A lot of our brothers in Israel are out there on the battlefield and can’t keep Shabbat, but we’re here keeping it together for Israel,” she said. “That is the best thing we can do for ourselves in order to not despair, and for them to know we’re behind them and keeping the Jewish nation strong.”

‘Going to make us a stronger people’

In San Diego, a Nov. 2 marketplace in the parking lot of the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center drew hundreds of Jews of all ages and backgrounds who sought to obtain products and services for Shabbat.

Women light candles before the start of Shabbat for those killed during the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks in southern Israel at a Shabbat marketplace in San Diego on Nov. 3, 2023. Credit: Courtesy.

A kosher food truck was on hand, as were Jewish-owned vendors and entertainment, including Israeli music, book-reading and sing-alongs.

One of the booths, which local teens created, was dedicated to Israel, according to Simone Abelsohn, who directed the marketplace and coordinated the Shabbat San Diego program. At the event, people lit candles for Israel, recited prayers for Israeli soldiers and recorded messages for Israeli soldiers in a “selfie” booth.

“I definitely had moments where I broke down and cried,” Abelsohn told JNS. “No matter how emotional and sad it is, it’s also very empowering. And it personally gives so much hope and makes me 1,000% sure that we’re going to get through this. It’s going to make us a stronger people.”

More than 1,000 people from eight Atlanta synagogues joined together in the parking lot of Beth Jacob Atlanta, an Orthodox congregation, for a Block Party Gala Kiddush on Shabbat.

Sarah Faygie Berkowitz, who worked with a small group of volunteers to arrange the kiddush in a short time, was very moved by the diversity of attendees.

“Seeing Jews of every age—from infants to elderly, all skin colors, all head coverings, all types of dress—was absolutely beautiful,” she told JNS. “It’s truly a multicultural gathering and everyone was there to celebrate Shabbat together.”

‘They need this initiative’

Over several weekends since the Oct. 7 attack, Jews throughout the world have also participated in the global Kabbalat Shabbat initiative, launched by Mosaic United, the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency

The initiative, marked by the social media hashtag #unityshabbat, has engaged nearly 500,000 people across the globe from about 180 Jewish organizations. Participants have ranged from 5 to 85 years old, and the initiative has distributed resources, including a booklet with traditional texts, Israeli songs and testimonies from survivors of the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks in southern Israel.

The initiative also provides placements with a Star of David per hostage held in Gaza. The objects are intended to be placed on empty chairs at dining tables or in synagogues—symbolizing the collective hope for their safe return.

Temima High School students prepare flowers for Block Party Kiddush at Beth Jacob Atlanta, which took place during the Shabbat Project. Credit: Courtesy of Beth Jacob Atlanta.

Since the war began, many supporters of Israel feel that they have been living in silence, which is why the initiative aims to broaden Israel’s support and to demonstrate to Zionists that they have communal support.

“They feel lonely and alone,” Gusti Yehoshua Braverman, an Israeli activist and chair of the World Zionist Organization’s Diaspora activities department, told JNS.

“They have lost confidence. They need this initiative, and they need hope,” she stressed.

“In moments of adversity, it’s our duty to stand united with our brothers and sisters in Israel,” stated Yaniv Biran, executive director of Tzofim of North America, in a press release. “We believe that together as one people we will be victorious against our enemies and show the true beauty and resilience of the Jewish people.”

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