This past Shabbat I received a taste of Shabbat the way it could be. I was privileged to be in Sydney, Australia to celebrate one of the most incredible displays of Jewish unity and togetherness I have ever seen.

During “Operation Defensive Edge” this summer the Jewish world was united in thought and deed out of concern for our Jewish State once again being forced into a “war without choice.” It was a unity centered on worry and anguish as well as pride and thankfulness for the IDF. This past Shabbat hundreds of thousands of Jews in 350 cities across the globe were united in thought and deed for a positive reason celebrating one of Judaism’s greatest contributions to the world, the gift of Shabbat.

When the dynamic young Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein conceived last year of an entire Jewish community putting all of its differences aside and focusing on what we have in common to celebrate the Shabbat together, he introduced it in his native South Africa. It was a stunning success. This year he initiated a worldwide celebration during Parshat Noach.

sydney havdalah

Community Havdalah in Sydney. Photo (c) Tuvia Book, 2014

As I had been invited to Sydney to lead Israel and Zionism education workshops in the day schools at this time, I was asked to lead some sessions as part of the “Shabbat Project” for the community. Just to share some of my observations:

  • On Thursday night thousands of Jewish women gathered in a massive warehouse to bake challot for Shabbat
  • On Friday night the streets of the Eastern suburbs of Sydney were packed with Jews of all denominations and levels of observance greeting each other on the streets and attending overflowing services. Jews opened their houses and synagogues to all of their brothers and sisters of our faith.
  • On Shabbat day the scene repeated itself with an afternoon at a Jewish center in which I led an informal session discussing Shabbat. Many families came with their children from non-observant homes to get a taste of Shabbat and Jewish unity.
  • My most meaningful session took place in the afternoon where I ran a session for members of all the Zionist youth movements.
  • After Shabbat thousands of Sydneysiders from across the religious spectrum gathered in a huge warehouse for a rousing spiritual Havdalah celebration. There was an abundance of music, food, singing and dancing. Secular Jews sang next to Ultra-Orthodox Jews. In the words of the Havdalah ceremony: “The Jews had light and joy.”

My Shabbat afternoon session in many ways was a microcosm of the entire experience. Here the future leaders of the Jewish people, the motivated Zionist youth movements’ leaders, gathered together to sing and learn. In the packed room Beitar, Bnei Akiva, Habonim and Netzer madrichim sat together and united in a common love of Zion.  I mentioned in my presentation that the last time I saw such an occasion was at the Yom Hazikaron (“Memorial Day”) ceremony in Modiin this year that was led by the youth movements. The most poignant part of that ceremony was when the sixteen-year-old members of the various youth movements in the municipality stepped forward and declared:

Today we are standing together here as representatives of different ideological, political and religious factions of Zionist youth movements in our respective uniforms. In two years we will lay all differences aside and we will all be wearing the same uniform, that of the IDF.”

This in essence is what the “Shabbat Project” was about. To remind us Jews what we have in common: Our love of Israel, our community and our traditions. If only we could spread the spirit of this magic Shabbat throughout the year we might be that much closer to full redemption. As Rabbi Kook observed:

Just as our Temple was destroyed because of “Sinat Hinam” (baseless hatred) between Jews, so it will only be rebuilt and true redemption will only arrive when we Jews practice “Ahavat Hinam” (baseless love).