We’ve just completed an exhilarating weekend of The Shabbat Project here in Melbourne Australia. As a member of the organising committee, the build up over the last six months has been slow and steady, flowing into a late surge of activity — for committee members and the entire community — as everything fell into place. Now that it has completed, we will slowly review how it all went, and plan for the future.
Over the last few days, a few key themes have stuck out for me:
1. The power of collaboration
Like any large Jewish community, we have no shortage of shuls and organisations, and the usual politics and rivalry that go with it. While our local Shabbat Project saw over one hundred events organized, what really excited me was the collaboration between organisations. In one case, three shuls came together and organised an outdoor Shabbat lunch for over 800 people near one of the shuls, followed by a lecture at another, and a seuda shlishit at the third, after which everyone walked to the park for the culminating havdala concert. This is unprecedented in our community! There were many more examples of organisations that usually would ‘do their own thing’ pooling resources with others like never before. We have seen first hand that collaboration means 1 + 1 = 3.
2. Positives trump negatives
Any community project always has detractors. There were people who felt some of the events were not quite inclusive enough (frankly, I was very happy just to eat the challah), and others who sought to use the publicity surrounding the Shabbat Project to drive personal agendas. But the positive feelings engendered by the Shabbat Project either starved them of oxygen or drowned them out. Sure, there are times to criticise, but there are also times to just sit back and celebrate all the positives. People would always rather be inspired by something positive than hop on the bandwagon of critics.
3. The inspirational power of unity
When a large number of people get together to do something good, magic happens. Like at the challah bake when a non-observant friend of mine decided on the spot that she would walk over an hour to a barmitzvah rather than drive. And the person who invited a total stranger across the table to her home for Shabbat lunch. Over the coming days and weeks, we will collect these and many other stories and see the power of groups of people doing a mitzvah together and the wonderful acts these groups can inspire.
4. The Shabbat Project is for everyone
I’ve been observing Shabbat all my life, and came to this project thinking it was all about reaching out to the people who don’t usually keep it. Indeed, I lobbied hard to get as many non-observant people as possible involved in the project either at committee level or as public endorsers. After all, no-one will keep Shabbat because their Rabbi tells them to. And there is little point preaching to the converted.
But reflecting of my own experience through the project, I formed the view that Shabbat observance has both a body and a soul: the body is the things we do or don’t do – not driving, switching off our phones, the cholent and the challah and the chicken soup – and the soul is the feelings brought out by the specific observances. With the passage of time, although the body of practice continues, the soul can become stale. By engaging with others for whom the Shabbat experience is novel, we can become re-inspired by their enthusiasm. Our souls, and the soul of our observance is reinvigorated. For that, I am truly grateful.