A Cranford synagogue has reenlisted in a national effort to “turn Friday night into Shabbat.”
On March 2, Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim will join hundreds of synagogues in North America in the 16th annual Shabbat Across America, an effort of the National Jewish Outreach Program.
Adrienne Fitzer of Cranford, who is chairing the event, said all are welcome that night to join the Conservative congregation for the service and a festive dinner. Rabbi Ben Goldstein will lead participants in an interactive “explanatory” Shabbat service and will discuss the traditional rituals that accompany the meal.
Fitzer described the evening “as a unique opportunity for TBEMC to provide Jews in the area who are unaffiliated or marginally affiliated with a joyous Shabbat experience on the same evening as over 700 communities across the U.S. and in Canada.”
Launched in 1997 by Orthodox Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, the National Jewish Outreach Program offers introductory programs in partnership with institutions from all denominations and individuals of all levels of observance. In the Central area, Israeli emissary Natalie Elgrabli has been teaching an NJOP Hebrew course that has won a loyal following.
Buchwald launched Shabbat Across America to offer unaffiliated Jews a taste of the Friday night rituals of synagogue prayer, family dinners, and withdrawal from everyday distractions.
“While it is true that the vast majority of Jews in this country have never participated in a traditional Sabbath experience and do not feel a connection to the Judaism that their grandparents practiced only half a century ago, this should not be,” he said in a statement.
It will be the third year that Beth-El Mekor Chayim is participating in the event — but the first time since 2007.
“I am very proud to be a participating community in this great event because I feel that of all of the mitzvot, Shabbat is the most important mitzva for families,” said Goldstein, who will take part in the event for the first time since joining the synagogue in 2010. “In its purest form, Shabbat is an island in time for us to come together with our family and friends and to sit with each other without having to worry about where we need to be next.”
Goldstein recalled the impact of his own Shabbat observance growing up.
“On Friday night, everything would stop,” he said. “The television would be off, we wouldn’t answer our phones, and we would sit together for Shabbos dinner for hours. We would talk, we would sing, and we would argue — in a family of six that is bound to happen.
“Our Shabbos table is where I learned the idea that two opposing opinions can both be for the sake of heaven,” Goldstein said. “I learned that people can disagree with each other and love each other at the same time. I learned what it meant to be a part of a family.”
He said the meal at the temple would be served “family style” to help create a “Shabbat at home” experience.
“It is the goal of Shabbat Across America to help everyone experience the beauty of Shabbat. We are prearranging the table seating assignments so no one feels left out or alone. We hope people will come join us to experience a wonderful Friday night Shabbat experience together,” he said.