The Shabbat (Sabbath) Project is a worldwide Jewish unity initiative founded in South Africa by Warren Goldstein — South Africa’s chief rabbi — in 2013.
The idea is to encourage Jews from across the religious spectrum to observe one Shabbat the same weekend in a show of Jewish cohesiveness and unity.
Jews in more than 560 cities worldwide participated in this initiative in 2015 — which took place last weekend (Oct. 23-24).
During The Shabbat Project, Jews were encouraged to experience one full Sabbath in total accordance with Jewish law — meaning no work, no phones and no cars from Friday evening until Saturday night.
It is estimated that more than a million Jews from more than 60 countries participated in The Shabbat Project in each of the last two years.
The Shabbat Project promotes observance of one of the most profound and central Jewish traditions — to rest, reflect and rejuvenate at the end of the week.
One of several South Florida Jewish institutions which participated in The Shabbat Project this year was the Chabad of Southwest Broward in Cooper City.
Rabbi Pinny Andrusier, co-director of the Chabad of Southwest Broward, said about 150 people participated in the Chabad’s Shabbat Project events.
Andrusier said: “In light of what is happening now in Israel, we need Jewish unity now more than ever. We decided to participate in The Shabbat Project as a statement of support to worldwide Jewish unity. I believe it did encourage people who normally wouldn’t keep Shabbat to take part.
“It brings to mind the famous saying that it’s not just that the Jewish people have kept Shabbat for more than 3,000 years, but Shabbat has kept the Jewish people for more than 3,000 years. Shabbat has been key to our survival.”
A number of local Jewish institutions also held Great Big Challah Bakes on Thursday night, Oct. 22 as baking the braided challah egg bread is a very big part of preparing to celebrate a traditional Jewish Shabbat.
In Miami-Dade County, Congregation Shaaray Tefilah hosted a Challah Bake in North Miami Beach.
Josh Garfinkle, one of the organizers of the event, commented: “We had a little more than 200 women coming together to make challahs. The point was to bring all different types of Jewish women together in one room for a common purpose. We also had a number of women inspired to make plans to bring their families to spend Shabbat with some of our members. That was a real bonus.”
The biggest South Florida event that was part of The Shabbat Project this year, however, was the inaugural Great Big Challah Bake Boca — which took place at B’nai Torah Congregation in central Boca Raton.
This free event was initially planned for about 1,000 Jewish women and girls (sixth grade and up), but kept growing and ended up including more than 2,200 people.
All of the event’s attendees gathered under a big tent put up in the B’nai Torah parking lot.
The women did not actually bake challahs at the event, but sat at tables stocked with flour, sugar, oil, eggs, yeast, water and salt — as well as bowls, measuring cups and spoons — to make two challah doughs to be baked at home.
However, 150 challahs prepared at the event were baked inside B’nai Torah and were donated to the Jacobson Family Food Pantry in Delray Beach — a division of Ruth and Norman Rales Jewish Family Services, the Boca Raton-based Jewish social-services agency.
Event organizers were thrilled with the energy and excitement present at the Great Big Challah Bake Boca.
Michal Marcus, of Boca Raton, one of the event co-chairs, said: “There was an incredible energy here tonight. It was very exciting to see so many different Jewish women of different types together in one place.”
Co-Chair Debra Halperin, of Boca Raton — secretary of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County — added: “We’re all here under one big tent tonight. This is typical of our incredibly inclusive Jewish community — with the Federation, of course, at the center of it all.”
Co-Chair Rebbetzin Yocheved Goldberg — wife of Boca Raton Synagogue Senior Rabbi Efrem Goldberg — commented: “I am overwhelmed with good feelings seeing so many Jewish women from South Florida together in one place. But, we cannot forget our brothers and sisters in Israel being terrorized by those who don’t respect their right to live in peace.”
Co-Chair Rebbetzin Rivkah Denburg — wife of Chabad of Boca Raton Senior Rabbi Moishe Denburg — added: “This is an important evening for our community. Baking the challah is one of the traditional mitzvahs (commandments) unique to Jewish women since the time of Sarah.”
Event attendees also loved the spirit of the evening.
Judith Rose, of Cooper City, general studies principal of the Hebrew Academy of Margate, commented: “I came a long way for this event. It was awesome and real special to have all the different generations of Jewish women together learning about making challah.”
Gulah Ezagui, 11, of Palm Beach, a student at Hebrew Academy of Margate, added: “I had fun learning how to make challah and being together with all these women and girls.”
Karen Esteves, of Lake Worth — a member of Temple Torat Emet in Boynton Beach who brought her daughters, Sarah, 12, and Ellie, 10 — concluded: “This was a great opportunity to learn how to make challah and participate in a Jewish experience that the rest of the world was experiencing.”