FEEL THE LOVE
Our community is suffering. Let’s create more Jewish-positive experiences.
The barbarism and ferociousness of the terrorist attack of Oct. 7 has reminded every member of the Jewish community of the very fragile nature of life as a Jew. In the months since, extreme levels of antisemitism — marked by hate speech, synagogue vandalism and threats of physical violence — have been inescapable facts for North America’s Jews. Like other traumatic moments in our history, these events mark a turning point in the way members of our community relate to their Jewish identity.
For many, it is an inflection point calling them to hold more tightly to their Jewishness. Since October, there has been a demonstrable upsurge of Jewish identity, much of it fueled by this adversity. In response to these challenging times, more Jews are attending pro-Israel rallies (including November’s historic March for Israel in Washington, D.C.), attending synagogue, buying Judaica, sending their children to day schools and buying challah. Professionals in synagogues, Hillels, JCCs and day schools are responding to new levels of demand. Some rabbis are even seeing an uptick in the non-Jewish spouses of Jews seeking to convert to Judaism.
For other members of the Jewish community, however, it feels like a moment to hide, to push their Jewish identity into the shadows. Studies by Jewish federations found that more than half of Jews report being highly emotionally impacted by the war, and that many are afraid to share their views except with Jewish family members and friends.
This path of fear could cause some to totally shut down their identity. Just last week, singer Alanis Morissette revealed that her grandparents completely hid their Judaism after surviving the Holocaust. Fear and trauma led them to feel that hiding their Jewishness was necessary for their safety. It shouldn’t surprise us if today many Jews feel the same; they might just be harder for us to notice.
It will take some more time for Jewish organizations and philanthropy to develop both short- and long-term strategies to deal with the massive disruptions and opportunities caused by this war, but one thing is clear: Our community needs Jewish-positive experiences, messages and spaces to feel both affirmed and safe in our Jewishness.
That is the idea behind Shabbat of Love, slated to take place across North America tomorrow, Jan. 19.
For a people still reeling from the traumas of these last three months, Shabbat brings a sorely needed day of peace, a day of dignity and a day for reconnecting not just with family and friends, but with the entire Jewish people. It is also a day, we should add during this hate-filled period, of love. This is captured beautifully by Aliza Kline, CEO of OneTable, who says: “Shabbat Shalom means ‘I love you.’”
Supported by the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Shabbat of Love is an ambitious nationwide event that aims to embrace as many Jews as possible, whether they are feeling isolated and fearful or have a newfound pride in their Jewish identity. The Shabbat of Love is an opportunity to bring our community together, an outlet our community is craving.
Even before the day itself, we have been heartened by the astonishing unity the Shabbat of Love has engendered across our community.
More than 200 organizations have signed on as partners to this effort, anchored by partnerships with OneTable and the Orthodox Union. Hillel, Repair the World, Momentum, Moishe House, PJ Library, Birthright, BBYO, synagogues and JCCs, and federations around the country are participating and mobilizing their communities for the event. These groups represent the widest spectrum of Jewish people with different backgrounds, affiliations and experience, ranging from the very observant to those who have until now only had a passing relationship with their Jewish identity.
Participants will be encouraged to show love in all different ways — through volunteering, visiting the sick and doing other acts of chesed (lovingkindness). To help spread the word, the Orthodox Union put up two 30-second billboards in New York City’s Times Square for the week. Today we are also set to break the Guinness World Record for the world’s longest challah.
Of the nearly 15,000 already committed to taking part, many have shared touching small insights into why they are participating. A significant number noted this will be their first time celebrating Shabbat, while others spoke of the importance of returning to a family tradition or passing it on to the next generation. Many non-Jews expressed a desire to show their support for the Jewish people.
Bringing together the sacredness of Shabbat and to center Jewish pride and joy, the event will demonstrate both how much we love each other and how much we love being Jewish.
As Jewish federations work to create more Jewish-positive messages, spaces and experiences in these dark times, we hope to all find light and gladness in celebrating Shabbat together, uplifting and embracing the Jewish people.
Learn more about Shabbat of Love and register to participate here.
Sarah Eisenman is chief community and Jewish life officer for the Jewish Federations of North America.