From Melbourne to Sydney With Love: Subbotnik Shabbat Dinner in Sydney Attracts Over 100 People

Ilona Blomberg lighting Shabbat candles; photo courtesy.
Ilona Blomberg lighting Shabbat candles; photo courtesy.

By Sarah Bendetsky

On 23-24 October, over 1 million Jews around the world marked the International Shabbat Project with communal challah baking sessions, festive dinners and Havdallah concerts.

Among them, more than 100 Russian Jewish community members in Sydney gathered at a communal Shabbat Dinner, hosted by volunteer-driven organisation Subbotnik*, Hillel Sydney, F.R.E.E./ Chabad Bondi and Kangarusski.

Established in April 2015 by a group of Russian-speaking volunteers in Melbourne, Subbotnik’s philosophy is simple – to share the joy of Judaism in the most inclusive way and to strengthen community spirit by organising events, programs and learning opportunities ‘where Russian culture meets Jewish tradition.’

Being a very first Subbotnik in Sydney, the event proved to be a great success uniting volunteers and guests from Melbourne and Sydney.

 Subbotnik’s Co-Founder Avi Bendetsky delivering delicacies to F.R.E.E. / Chabad of Bondi where we held Subbotnik; photo courtesy.
Subbotnik’s Co-Founder Avi Bendetsky delivering delicacies to F.R.E.E. / Chabad of Bondi where we held Subbotnik; photo courtesy.

Prior to the dinner, volunteers gathered at ‘Our Big Kitchen,’ Sydney’s iconic cooking spot, where they cooked authentic Russian Jewish dishes and baked challah guided by volunteer Mila Rodov of Mila’s Kosher Catering. Meanwhile, other helpers were busy decorating the hall at F.R.E.E./Chabad Bondi, recreating the Melbourne Subbotnik experience.

Volunteer Natalya Mendelevich said, “Subbotnik has given me an experience to be a part of the Russian Jewish community, where everyone feels welcome and truly belongs. This beautiful community project has opened the doors for people to collaborate and envision a better future for the Russian Jewish community in Australia.”

And finally, more than 100 Russian-speaking community members arrived for a warm, family-oriented Shabbat ‘with Russian flavor.’ Since the event started an hour before Shabbat, participants were able to light candles in honour of Shabbat, take heartwarming photos and meet and greet.

During the dinner, the Subbotnik guests enjoyed a delicious 4-course meal, sparks of Torah wisdom by Rabbi Yehoram Ulman and Rabbi Eli Schlanger, entertainment by well-known Sydney MC Garry Volk, comedy skits by writer and Co-Founder of Subbotnik Sarah Bendetsky, as well as schmoozing, singing and meeting new friends (some of whom arrived all the way from Melbourne for Subbotnik.)

“It’s hard to believe what we, as a small group of Russian-speaking volunteers, were able to achieve in less than six months,” said Bendetsky. “Thanks to the incredible support from our community and our partners, we were able to bring closer over 550 Russian Jews in Australia. During these months, we celebrated Shabbat and other Jewish holidays in a unique, Jewish-Russian way; with glowing eyes and words of inspiration, with homemade food and plans for future growth… What can I say; miracles do happen; especially when you give them a chance.”

* Subbotnik – a Russian term for volunteering action commonly held on Saturdays