Keeping It Together: The Shabbos Project

There are many epidemics that seem to have their roots in Africa. AIDS, Ebola and an assortment of other scary sounding hemorrhagic fevers, to name but a few, all have this continent firmly stamped on their Certificate of Origin.

But the latest one to sweep the globe is a pandemic that we are able to feel a little more proud of. Shabbos seems to be spreading fast with more than 340 cities in 35 countries outside of South Africa being affected. The Guide Book has so far been translated into 8 languages and the Project’s website has had more than 14,000,000 hits. It is rumoured in fact that Facebook is looking to buy Shabbos, as it fits their criteria – it doesn’t make money but everyone is on board (I might have actually made that one up myself). Grade A celebrities have leapt to join this trend even ones with not so Jewish sounding names. Consequently the most heard phrase in Johannesburg around dinner tables is “What? I didn’t know he/ she /it is Jewish?” So much so, that many South Africans wait with baited breath for Julius Malema, leader for the infamous EFF party, to claim Shabbos as his own.

The project was launched in 2013 by South Africa’s Chief Rabbi, Dr Warren Goldstien as a South African initiative. What he could not have anticipated was the global appeal. South African’s embraced this as only South Africans could, and all of a sudden Shabbos became the “in thing” to keep along with Kruger Rands . Friday night dinner under the stars where neighborhood streets were closed to traffic (but not in the stone-throwing sort of way) became common all over the country, non observant friends moved in with Shabbat observant ones, and it became Johannesburg’s first mass kosher sleep over.

Shuls across the country found different ways to participate and to encourage, and for 25 hours South African Jewry became an example of all that is good in the world. It ended with a massive concert and the community stood together to say farewell to what was one of the most moving days of the year. For a brief moment, we became a symbol, not of crime, not of corruption but of hope, of unity and of peace.

South Africa, and particularly Johannesburg, is ground zero for the Shabbos Project. It was conceived in its streets, bares its charm and hospitality and it is the energy that is the exportable X factor. The skeptics said that it could only work here for a host of very clever reasons, they said that no one will want it as the rest of world Jewry is too divided, fragmented and busy. But what they didn’t count on is the fact that this is exactly what everyone has been looking for and waiting for.

This year’s slogan in Johannesburg reads – “Take a day out of your life to live” and nothing could be more apt. The Jewish world along with our non Jewish brothers and sisters face a daily tsunami of news, pressure and stress. We are over extended, over committed and we are run ragged. Our connectivity has all but destroyed any hope of tranquility and it is this serenity that the Shabbos Project hopes to gift back to us.

And indeed it is as simple as reading The Guide (in one of the eight languages), buying a new set of comfortable pajamas, switching off the cell phone and letting the global wave, that starts somewhere very far East and ends very far West, wash over us bringing with it the peace and the quiet that we crave.

About the Author
Howard Feldman is a lawyer, a physical commodity trader by industry and a writer by obsession. He is very active in the Jewish community and passionate about our world.
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