By Liam Hoare
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work;
but the seventh day is a Sabbath unto the Lord thy God.”
The Torah gives two reasons for the need to keep Shabbat holy. In Exodus 20:10, it is said that having created the earth and sea, the Lord “rested on the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.” But in Deuteronomy 5:14, one is commanded to keep Shabbat: “And … remember that thou was a servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God brought thee out … by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day.”
In Europe, in modern times religious reasoning was superseded by or merged with secular demands from the international left and trade union movements for a day of rest and an end of the seven-day work week. Israel – itself a project combining European-influenced Labor Zionism and Jewish tradition – instituted Shabbat as the official day of rest (for Jews), prohibiting commerce and public transportation.
“Shabbat is the most beautiful gift that the culture of Israel has given the world,” Amos Oz concluded, speaking in 2009. “It is a different day dedicated not only to rest but mainly to spiritual and familial exultation. I hope that this gift will continue to accompany us always.” Indeed, but the state guaranteeing the weekend and Jews around the world having so many different conceptions of what it means to keep it, whither Shabbat today?
Last year, The Shabbos Project was born in South Africa, the child of the country’s Chief Rabbi, Dr. Warren Goldstein. Over one Shabbat in October, 75 percent of South Africa’s 75,000 Jews kept the day in all of its halachic details. Now, this year, the Shabbos Project is going global, taking in dozens of cities and communities from one end of Europe to the other, what the organizers are calling “an experiment that has no precedent in modern Jewish history.”
“The international Shabbos Project is an opportunity for the entire Jewish world to keep one complete Shabbos together – from Friday evening just before sunset on October 24, until Saturday night after the stars have come out, on October 25,” explains Chief Rabbi Goldstein, “The beauty of this is that it is so practical and manageable. It’s only one Shabbos. It’s something everyone can do.”
In Europe, it is communities in the United Kingdom who are going big on the Shabbos Project. Communities and synagogues in London, Manchester, and Glasgow, Leeds, Surrey, Watford, Ilford, and Borehamwood have partnered with the Shabbos Project. Many more are partaking in Shabbat UK, the British arm of the Shabbos Project. The Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has taken a personal role in midwifing Shabbat UK, calling on Jews regardless of their level of religious observance to mark the Shabbat on October 24 and 25.
“Shabbat is a core building block of Jewish identity,” Chief Rabbi Mirvis said earlier this year. “It has the power to shape and transform individuals and communities. Shabbat UK will inspire communities to collectively share the Shabbat experience.”
“This is a wonderful opportunity to join fellow Jews across the UK and around the world in keeping Shabbat together,” Debra Levin, member of the Orthodox Pinner Synagogue in north-west London, said. “Our Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis is supporting the Shabbat Project in the UK and helping to promote this nationally. I think it is a wonderful initiative and compelling to all Jews regardless of their level of religious observance.
“Everyone I’ve spoken to is excited about the project, and everyone wants to be involved in one way or another. I think this going to open up the Shabbat experience to a wide range of people who wouldn’t otherwise have had, or would have even considered taking advantage of such an opportunity,” Levin concluded.
But all over Europe, communities will be participating in the Shabbos project: Vienna in Austria; Antwerp in Belgium; Paris and Strasbourg in France (where the project has the endorsement of the country’s new Chief Rabbi, Haïm Korsia, as well as the singer-songwriter Daniel Lévi); Berlin, Leipzig, and Erkarth in Germany; Rome and Venice in Italy; Vilnius in Lithuania; Amsterdam and Rotterdam in the Netherlands; and Basel and Zurich in Switzerland.
In Basel, for example, one day prior to Shabbat, the community will be holding a preparatory event, which will including instruction on how to bake challah and a crash course on Shabbat. On Friday evening, there will be a service at the Great Synagogue of Basel, followed by a Friday night dinner at the community hall. Saturday morning, too, the Great Synagogue will host a service, at the community hall will host an open Kiddush at its end.
Saturday afternoon, there will be a walk around the city, given by Isabel Shlerkman, project manager of the Bâleph iPhone and Android app, which offers a virtual look at the Jewish history of Basel from the Middle Ages up until the present day. The events will wrap up on Saturday evening, with a Havdalah concert given by the local klezmer and jazz band, Kol Simcha.
So what is the purpose of all this? What the organizers of the Shabbos Project hope, in extending the project to London and Paris, Berlin and Rome, is that being conscious of keeping Shabbat in unison will in some fashion forge a greater sense of unity in Jews across the continent and indeed the world. Having just come out of one of the worst summers in memory when it comes to anti-Semitism – or anti-Semitism wearing the mask of anti-Zionism – an attempt to foster a sense of solidarity and comradeship among Jews in Europe through Shabbat would be a noble one.
“Keeping it together means keeping our lives together. Of course, there is the good food, sound sleep and deep relaxation we look forward to, but there’s more. Shabbos restores us, not just in a physical sense, but emotionally and spiritually as well, so that we emerge motzei Shabbos as new human beings ready to face the week with all of its challenges and opportunities,” Chief Rabbi Goldstein concluded.
“Shabbos enables us to momentarily set aside the distractions, demands and pressures of daily life, offering us the time and space to renew our inner selves, and to revisit and reinvigorate our most important relationships. Shabbos can hold us together in a society where everything seems to be pulling us apart.”