Barry Newman

Fulfilling the Meaning of Project Shabbat

In the interest of complete transparency, let me confess that I have been married to the subject of this piece, Tzippy Newman, for more than forty years. And while my regard for her is most certainly endless, I do believe that I can document her overall achievements – and the one I’m now describing – with third-party objectivity. In this contentious and turbulent period Israel has found itself in for the last five months or so, something to feel good and be proud about is long overdue, particularly as this country has just celebrated its seventy-fifth year of independence.

Although it started out as a hesitant experiment, Project Shabbat has become one of the more highly anticipated international events of the Jewish calendar. Exactly when Israel first participated in the activities that were initiated by the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Warren Goldstein, is not entirely clear, but it was not until 2016 that the program was introduced in the Samarian settlement of Karnei Shomron. Through a variety of print and social media Tzippy had become familiar with Rabbi Goldstein’s project and was drawn to the idea of promoting Jewish unity through an enhanced awareness of both the religious and cultural importance of Shabbat. The idea that Jewish communities throughout the five continents would, together, set aside a few hours to celebrate and express appreciation of what very well may have prevented the dissolution of the Jewish people and the end of Judaism was indeed sound and worth being a part of. And so, with the assistance of several neighbors and friends, Tzippy began the effort to ensure that our settlement would join such Israeli cities as Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Natanya and Haifa in making Shabbat Parshat Lech Lecha of year 5777 a truly memorable one.

This would not, to be sure, have been Tzippy’s first venture as an organizer or activist. She had taken a leading role, for example, in the battle to improve the safety on our roads and was instrumental in pushing through the Israeli legislature the Graduated Driver’s Program (GDP) that was implemented as part of the licensing process for new drivers. She had also petitioned exhaustively for the release of our Hamas-imprisoned serviceman Gilad Shalit and struggled to arrive at some arrangement that would both free Gilad from captivity and not compromise the security of our nation. But it was the potential diversity and challenge of putting together a settlement-wide acknowledgement of Shabbat that captured Tzippy’s interest.

The first several years of Project Shabbat in our community were highly successful if somewhat unimaginative. There were either Friday evening dinners with songs and inspirational talks that focused on Shabbat (with translations into Russian for those who were not yet fluent or even comfortable in Hebrew) or a festive kiddush after Shabbat morning prayers in which youth from both the Bnei Akiva and Tzofim organizations nibbled on kugel and herring, and shared their respective perspectives on how best to observe Shabbat. Tzippy and her partners wanted to ensure that the message of Shabbat Shalom belonging to everybody was the prevailing theme.

Project Shabbat during the pandemic years, needless to say, demanded some downsizing, so Shabbat packages were prepared for the elderly and infirm and distributed while being serenaded with Shabbat songs by the multi-faceted youngsters who provided vibrant evidence that discussion and conversation were far more productive than hostility and accusations. One cannot but help be reminded of Ahad Ha’am’s famous observation that “More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.”

This past year, Tzippy felt that the focus of Project Shabbat should concentrate on Israel’s most valuable resource, the brave men and women who serve in the Israel Defense Forces. After a bit of brainstorming, she spearheaded a fundraising drive and coordinated with the head of the Nishrei Pere Rovait Battalion of Karnei Shomron to treat the eighty or so valiant soldiers who look out for our safety to a bit of pampering. Platters of deli sandwiches, a wide variety of salads, decadent cakes and pastries, and cold beverages were brought over to the outpost on a late afternoon the Thursday before the date scheduled for Project Shabbat. There was, in addition, enthusiastic singing and dancing, and a local rabbi enlightened the audience with some dynamic messages on what Shabbat was all about. It was, in short, a rousing success that both treated our service personnel to well-deserved delicacies and reminded all participants that the welfare of the Jewish people and the sanctity of Shabbat were an inseparable combination.

The Governing Committee of Project Shabbat (GCPS) in South Africa requests all participants to provide a summary of the activities that were part of this year’s festivities. Tzippy provided a vibrant account of what she and her team put together with photos and letters of appreciation from the outpost’s commanding officers. To her surprise and delight, GCPS decided that the Karnei Shomron effort provided the most meaningful appreciation of Shabbat by sharing it with those who are responsible for Israel’ security and safety throughout the year. In conjunction with this recognition, Tzippy was awarded two round-trip tickets to South Africa and invited to participate in the annual Project Shabbat conference that is held each year in Johannesburg.

Although she was extremely appreciative to have been honored with this honor, she felt that the value of the prize could be put to better use than by having photo sessions with Rabbi Goldstein or the input she would contribute to round table discussions and panels. In the course of the Project Shabbat activities for the Nishrei Pere Rovait Battalion, Tzippy noticed a sparsity of comfortable furniture and few items of recreation. This is, of course, not surprising insofar as military budgets have little room for anything other than basic comforts. She was unable to resist the opportunity to make a difference.

After what seemed to have been an endless exchange of correspondence and discussions, GCPS agreed that Tzippy’s idea of making day-to-day life for those serving in battalion was more worthwhile than having her join the annual Project Shabbat conference, and transferred over the monetary value of the prize they awarded to her. The eighty members of the battalion now have comfortable outdoor furniture that they can unwind on in between assignments and duties and a much-appreciated ping pong table. In addition, Shabbat-inspired art work now hangs on the walls of the outpost’s dining room. This was indeed the culmination of a truly memorable Project Shabbat. And the GCPS could not have agreed more.

At some point within the next several weeks, the newly received acquisitions will be officially dedicated, with, it is hoped, the participation of Rabbi Goldstein. Tzippy is indeed an example of someone who expressed her devotion to Shabbat in conjunction with her appreciation of those who put their lives on the line for all of us. She is if nothing else an example of someone who was ready to, quite literally, put her money where her mouth is, and all of Israel should be proud of her. And no one, of course, more so than I.

About the Author
Born and raised on New York’s Lower East Side, Barry's family made aliya in 1985. He worked as a Technical Writer for most of his professional life (with a brief respite for a venture in catering) and currently provides ad hoc assistance to amutot in the preparation of requests for grants. And not inconsequently, he is a survivor of stage 4 bladder cancer, and though he doesn't wake up each day smelling the roses, he has an appreciation of what it means to be alive.
Related Topics
Related Posts