By Tova Norman
When Jill Mainzer’s family realized they had booked a trip to visit relatives during the Shabbos Project, they decided to reschedule their trip.
“We’re definitely looking forward to it,” said Mainzer, who participated with the Atlanta Scholars Kollel and the Congregation Ariel community last year. She compared the weekend to a shabbaton: “There was just a very lively, festive atmosphere about the whole thing.”
The Shabbos Project started in South Africa in 2013. Rabbi Warren Goldstein, the current chief rabbi of South Africa, asked South African Jews to observe Shabbat in the traditional sense for one week, all together, during Parshat Lech Lecha.
Last year more than 900 cities in 85 countries participated.
“It’s a global movement of uniting Jews around one Shabbos every year,” said Rabbi Netanel Friedman of the Atlanta Scholars Kollel. “When people heard about it all over the world, they said, ‘I want to try that.’ ”
Native South Africans and current Atlantans Robyn Regenbaum of Ariel and Brian Gordon of Congregation Beth Tefillah brought the idea to their synagogues.
“We saw the success there, and we thought, ‘Why could this not be successful here?’ ” Gordon said. “This is like a brand name that everyone would feel that they can relate to. … It took away the concept that you have to be observant to celebrate Shabbat.”
The model for the weekend is the same in cities around the world. Begin Thursday night with a giant challah bake for women, observe Shabbat with the community and end the weekend with a Havdalah concert.
While individual shuls have plans to celebrate Shabbat in their own way, the Great Big Challah Bake and the Havdalah concert, featuring the Israeli-American band Simply Tsfat, are for the entire Atlanta Jewish community, with information and tickets available at atlanta.theshabbosprojectusa.org.
The Saturday night concert will be at Atlanta Jewish Academy, 5200 Northland Drive, Sandy Springs. Tickets are $15 and $10.
Last year the challah bake had over 600 participants, packing the gym at the Marcus Jewish Community Center. This year Chabad of Georgia and the Jewish Women’s Connection of Atlanta are joining forces in the hope of attracting more than 1,500 women.
“People are excited that people are working together that usually don’t and that everyone is coming together,” said Dassie New of Chabad of Georgia.
The collaboration is what the Shabbos Project is all about, said Regenbaum, who is chairing the challah bake event, as she has each year it has been Atlanta.
“To me, this is a community event,” she said, explaining that she hopes women from all Jewish backgrounds will attend and participate in the project in their own way. “I just want women to come be with all women from all walks of life — from the left to the middle and the right — and experience what it is like to make challah, what the meaning of making challah is, and take it home and maybe have a Friday night dinner.”
The Great Big Challah Bake will take place at the Cobb Galleria at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10, when women will gather to make their own loaves to take home and bake. Similar events will occur around the world that day. Tickets are $18.
“For women, the thought of coming together in a room and knowing that everywhere in the world a lot of Jewish women in every city in every country are baking challah right now gives you a certain feeling of being unified not just with the Jewish women in Atlanta, but with every Jewish woman on the planet,” New said.
While the dough rises, before it is braided, the women will hear about the power of the Jewish woman and the mitzvah of making challah.
“That you’re unified through that mitzvah is very powerful,” New said. “Everyone is tapping into their Judaism through this mitzvah at that moment. The knowledge of that is what makes women want to be there.”
After participating the first year, Mainzer returned last year with her daughter because she had such a great experience. They are signed up for Nov. 10.
“The knowledge that it’s going on all over the world and that you are all doing it together at the same time for the same reason, it just elevates the whole experience,” Mainzer said.
Rabbi Friedman is coordinating Shabbos Project programing with Ariel as the home base.
Ariel members are inviting guests to celebrate Shabbat with their community and kollel rabbis.
The idea is that people who “don’t do it every week come and experience a traditional Shabbos once in a year,” Rabbi Friedman said, and the hope is that when they leave, “they feel united with Jews around the world in their Judaism and that they should feel connected to Shabbos in their life.”
On Friday night, Nov. 11, kollel rabbis will have dinner at the homes of Ariel families with their guests. Options Saturday morning will include a traditional service, a learners service and group discussions led by kollel rabbis, followed by a community lunch.
“People walked away really, really inspired,” Rabbi Friedman said of last year’s participants.
“No matter what stage they are at in terms of their Jewish practice, I would really encourage people to give it a try,” Mainzer said. “The whole Ariel community makes it just really open and warm and fun and accessible. You just feel like you want to be part of it.”
In Toco Hills, the community will come together in conjunction with the Shabbos Project with a block party (www.shabbatblockparty.com) — a free Shabbat Kiddush lunch served in the Congregation Beth Jacob parking lot from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and open to the entire Jewish community.
“It’s a public way for people to come together and celebrate Shabbos,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Tendler, the executive director at Beth Jacob, who is coordinating the event with the help of schools and shuls around Toco Hills.
The block party lunch drew more than 500 people last year. The hope is that it will be bigger Nov. 12 and will encourage a sense of community among all Jews in the area.
The Havdalah concert band, Simply Tsfat, will spend Shabbat in Toco Hills and participate in the party.
While many block party attendees are already Shabbat-observant, Rabbi Tendler said he hopes participants will get a deeper sense of community based in the shared value of Shabbat.
“We should focus on shared values as much as possible in order to increase cooperation and collaboration among various groups of Jews,” he said.
At Beth Tefillah, the Shabbat celebration will feature award-winning speaker and author Kivi Bernhard, a community Friday night dinner (tickets are $30 for adults and $18 for ages 3 to 11) and Saturday lunch, and a variety of programs Shabbat morning and afternoon (bit.ly/2e33Tjs). Bernhard will speak at the Friday dinner and on Saturday morning from 10 to 11.
Programming for children of all ages, focusing on the theme of the Shabbos Project, will be provided throughout the weekend.
“We try to make it a very open event to anyone who is interested in attending,” Gordon said. “It’s aimed at really uniting us as a people and looking at our commonalities rather than our differences.”
Chabad of Georgia Rabbi Isser New said the challah bake can be a beginning to Shabbat observance, either through an organized program or on your own.
“Every single person can be a part of it at whatever level if this Shabbos you decide to take on any aspect of Shabbos, whatever it is,” he said. “It’s an energy in the entire world, and everybody has the opportunity to tap into it at whatever level.”
Rabbi Friedman said he hopes the Shabbos Project will have a lasting impact on participants. “Hopefully, Shabbos becomes something people want to be involved in,” he said. “Shabbos should be the great unifier of the Jewish people.”