It was a nice evening, in the mid-70’s, and there were traffic control officers on a few of the streets as I approached the corner of Beverly and Pico. Getting closer to Pico, I could see people milling about and like myself walking to a pre-ordained location to meet friends and family. Bright lights were set up surrounding the island within the street.
I first heard about the Shabbat of Unity Friday night dinner, also known as Shabbat Project 3000, last Thursday night at my homeowner’s association meeting. The Shabbat or Shabbos Project, founded in South Africa a couple years ago, is a worldwide movement promoting Jewish Unity when Jews around the world celebrate one Shabbat in unison. Shabbat Project 3000 is an event run by JUN (Jewish Unity Network) and UNOH (United Nation of Hashem). Shabbat of course, is the day when Jewish people take a break from their hectic lives and connect with family and friends in togetherness, relaxation, prayer and peace.
Some homeowners were not happy that a few block stretch of Pico Boulevard would be closed off to traffic for the event. I envisioned a well-manicured and pedicured horde carrying pitchforks and torches marching toward Pico.
When our city councilman’s deputy announced the closure, he was fast and furious peppered with questions. “Why are we just finding this out now?” (A couple disgruntled homeowners.) “Who are these people?” “Why are they allowed to do this?” “Did the councilman try to stop it?” (More disgruntled homeowners.) “What will they be serving, and will there be cholent?” (Me.)
As I made my way east on Pico toward where I was to meet my sister and brother-in-law, I saw lines of tables and chairs lined up in the middle of the boulevard, as well as larger groups of people waiting to be allowed entry to the tables. The table area was encircled by police tape, yellow and red, wrapped around light and street sign poles. “Danger – Do Not Pass,” they said. The only danger I thought to myself, would be to anyone who got between me and the cholent.
I actually felt some kind of excitement in the air, a kind of electricity.
The Shabbat Project 3000 event organizers began planning in mid-August, with tickets being sold for $18 and above. When all was said and done according to one of the organizers, Josh Golcheh, there were 3,000 attendees plus an additional 500 people who came later for an after-dinner activity. Golcheh told me he received calls about security, some people thinking with all the terrorism going on against Jews in Israel, this event was irresponsible and dangerous. To Golcheh’s credit, and the credit of the other organizers in cities all around the world, the Shabbat event went forward.
Golcheh made it clear beforehand that Shabbat Project 3000 would take every precaution necessary to allay any fears and to be sure all would be able to break bread together in a safe atmosphere.
The security was noticeable, but not intrusive. There were about 20 Los Angeles Police Department officers, 20 neighborhood watch representatives, several Hatzolah (Jewish community, emergency rapid response) EMT’s, and 70 private security officers – some of them on overlooking rooftops. Everyone had to get a wristband in advance and all those who entered the table area were checked by security officers. As far as I could see it all went smoothly.
Entering, I could better see the many tables, three hundred, each neatly adorned with some side dishes and soda, and with tableware at the ready. As people made their way to identified tables, my sister, brother-in-law and I saw many friends.
I saw one of my former Bar-Mitzvah students now a father (where did the time go?), walking on the sidewalk with his wife and child. He was not participating but he stopped and all of us had a nice conversation. We even had nice chats with police officers and others involved with security and organization. And it struck me that hey, this was part of what was best about the function. People, even those not sharing in the dinner, meeting each other, being together in some pleasant fashion, and enjoying the peace of the Shabbat.
Two of my former little league baseball players greeted me, one whom I last saw when he was under five feet tall, now several inches over six feet. Yikes, and he used to look up to me. More attendees we knew passed and stopped to converse. The gathering included young and old, Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, observant and non-observant alike. Israeli Druse soldiers and members of the Israel Magen David Edom (Israel’s Red Cross) were in attendance as honored guests.
There was hand-shaking and greetings of “Shabbat Shalom” with those that people knew and with many they did not. And it didn’t matter. The event was living up to its unity name.
Popular Hebrew songs broke out and some participants formed dancing chains snaking around the tables. Once things had settled down and everyone got to their tables, people started singing the traditional Shabbat welcome songs, Shalom Aleichem and Eishet Chayil. Then Kiddush (the blessing with wine that sanctifies the Shabbat) was made at each table and everyone went to wash their hands at washing stations before partaking of the rolls on the tables or the Challah brought by attendees.
Surprisingly to me, because I am a very picky eater, the catered food brought to the tables was very good. And the chicken and potatoes and other side dishes were served hot. No cholent unfortunately, lol, but I had my fill. There was more singing and celebration and after a few hours it was over. Many lingered to talk or walk around as the cleaning up began.
Look, times have been tough for the Jewish people. When are they not? But lately, it has been extremely difficult for our brethren in Israel. And contrary to the worried naysayers, this Shabbat of Unity was actually perfectly timed and made many feel great pride in their people and their traditions. We must show we are united with our fellow Jews around the world and especially with those in Israel. And like those in Jerusalem and other cities and towns in the Jewish State, we must not cower and let those who hate us rule our lives. Those days are long gone.
Kol Hakavod (well done) to Josh Golcheh and his partner Dara Abaei and all the others around the globe, who made a beautiful Shabbat possible for hundreds of thousands of people. See you next year.