While some states are relaxing their stay-at-home orders due to the coronavirus pandemic, many Jewish institutions remain closed with in-person Shabbat on hold. To fill the gap and reach out to both Israelis living in America and the greater Jewish community, the Israeli-American Council has been hosting an online Kabbalat Shabbat service each Friday afternoon.

Launched by IAC’s Shishi Israeli division, which combines Jewish traditions and Israeli culture, the Kabbalat Shabbat program includes Israeli personalities, songs, the lighting of candles and the recitation of kiddush. It also incorporates both Hebrew and English.

“With the coronavirus, this has really been defining the week for me because the whole rest of the week got lost,” says longtime Pennsylvania resident and Israeli native Devorah Selber. “Every Friday, when we have Kabbalat Shabbat services, I’ll get dressed up, set the table and join in the Zoom program. It’s something I love, and it’s a great feeling to see the whole community get together.”

A different community from across the United States takes the lead each week in organizing and running the program, which starts on Fridays at 5:30 Eastern Standard Time.

Guest stars from the Israeli media also participate. Some offer words of inspiration; others lead the singing and prayers. Among Israeli performers that have participated are musician and singer David Broza; news anchor Sivan Rahav-Meir; and Israeli pop singer Ivri Lider.

This week’s program features musician and singer Neshama Carlebach.

Israeli musician David Broza performs as part of the weekly online Kabbalat Shabbat program sponsored by the Israeli-American Council. Credit: Courtesy.

“Now more than ever, a sense of togetherness and belonging is critical,” said Shoham Nicolet, IAC co-founder and CEO. “In a virtual world that has no physical boundaries, we can now celebrate together with hundreds of families, as a national community, and to have leading Israeli artists and leaders join us. This is the nature of innovation, and we are grateful that we can connect and inspire so many families in these challenging times.”

While Selber, 65, is active in her Jewish community in Wynnewood, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia, she realizes that others don’t have the same experience. And so, the Kabbalat Shabbat program appeals to American Israelis, regardless of affiliation.

“I’m part of a synagogue, but for a lot of families, it’s not part of their life in Israel,” she said, noting that when they come to America to live, they often have trouble finding Jewish connections. “The IAC programming we do here helps them stay together and keep their connection to their Jewishness in a very light way.”

“It’s a great feeling to see the whole community together on Friday nights,” says Selber. “It is just beautiful and something I love.”

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