It’s a simple idea. Ask Jews to keep Shabbat from candle-lighting on Friday through Havdala on Saturday evening, once, together, the same Shabbat, across denominations or without denomination.
The Shabbos Project started last year in South Africa, and it is launching this year in West Orange, Cherry Hill, and Teaneck, along with 170 other cities in 30 countries around the world on Oct. 24-25.
The Shabbos Project, in addition to modeling activities for the event, provides guidance on observing Shabbat through its website.
“It was so much more than we could ever have predicted in our wildest dreams,” said South Africa’s chief rabbi, Warren Goldstein, who conceived and organized last year’s undertaking. Over 5,000 people participated in the Havdala concert finale.
“This is so powerful,” said Dr. Moshe Glick, who has spearheaded the effort in West Orange together with Ira Bloom. Referring to a video of people who participated last year in South Africa, Glick said, “You saw individuals who are unaffiliated and the appreciation they had for experiencing the magic of Shabbat and Jewish unity.”
So far, 100 people have signed up to participate in West Orange, where activities will begin Thursday evening, Oct. 23, with a community-wide hallah bake at the Chabad-affiliated Friendship Circle building in Livingston. Friday-night dinner will be held at (Orthodox) Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob & David. Participants are invited to join services at any of the town’s participating synagogues.
Shabbat afternoon lunch is being organized at people’s homes, and a community-wide Havdala service followed by a concert will take place Saturday night at (Conservative) B’nai Shalom.
Glick, who is a member at AABJ&D, runs West Orange Encounters (also with Ira Bloom), which offers Jewish study and social events to otherwise unengaged or unaffiliated Jews. He loves the peer-to-peer nature of the Shabbos Project. “Each participant reaches out to neighbors and friends to join them. It’s the ultimate grassroots campaign,” he said.
He also relishes the opportunity to work together with other denominations.
“This is Orthodox and Conservative working together — that’s almost never done,” he said. (There are no Reform or Reconstructionist congregations in West Orange.)
In addition to B’nai Shalom and AABJ&D, participating rabbis and congregations include Young Israel of West Orange, Englishtown Synagogue, Congregation Ohr Torah, and the West Orange Lubavitch Center.
Glick initially thought he could involve all of Essex County, and perhaps even Morris and Union counties. “I did not realize how humongous an undertaking this is,” he said. He estimates that he’s invested hundreds of hours, all as a volunteer. Glick, a dental surgeon, runs offices in Riverdale, Scarsdale, and New York City.
He and his team have managed to raise $15,000, so that all events are free. (Members of a synagogue are asked to pay $25 for the Friday night dinner.) “We are trying to remove all the impediments,” he said. There are overnight accommodations for families who live too far from a synagogue to walk.
He believes more resources need to be devoted community-wide to reaching unaffiliated Jews. “I read the Pew Study again,” he said, referring to the 2013 analysis of Jewish life. “The picture it offers is not right. Assimilation and intermarriage are off the charts. We need a lay campaign to bring people back in, and we want to make it easy.”
He knows observing Shabbat can be daunting, whether that involves changing a routine or unplugging.
“It’s not easy to do — to step outside the box…. As a society, we are over-programmed and overwhelmed. You see a family on a hike, and it’s four people in the woods looking at their cell phones.
“But something spiritual comes over people when they experience Shabbat. My favorite time of the week is Friday night through Saturday. It really, really is. It’s magic. And I’m putting so much energy into this because so many people have never experienced it.”