Ever go to a Shabbat Dinner of 1,000 Jews, where the hosts asked you to please drink every last drop of wine, since the level of kedusha was at its highest from being made in Israel during shmita (sabbatical year in the agricultural cycle mandated by the Torah for the Land of Israel, and still observed in contemporary Judaism today)? Chances are, if you’re a connected Jew, or even if you are generally unaffiliated but have awesome Observant friends you did something cool for the Shabbat Project last Friday November 12. However; if you weren’t in Tel Aviv for the Biggest Shabbat Dinner of 2016, you missed an epic meal.
The Shabbat Project began in South Africa three years ago and was the brainchild of the Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein. Everyone saw the images of the women’s Challah Bake in the streets and were moved. Goldstein shared his vision globally and by 2015, the Shabbat Project reached 918 participating cities in 84 countries. Rabbi Goldstein explains, “Big ideas can change the world and the Jewish world today needs them more than ever. The Shabbat Project is one such big idea: a call to Jews all around the globe to think boldly about our future, to connect across the walls we’ve put up. The Shabbat Project is the story of Jews returning to their roots, reconnecting with their heritage, returning to their bonds of natural closeness and friendship—all through the Shabbat experience.”
One city in particular caught The Chief’s eye. It’s invigorating response to the call of action impressed him so much, The Shabbat Project moved it’s official global headquarters there. Of all the cities in the entire world, Chief Rabbi Goldstein chose to set up shop for Shabbat in the fastest growing beach town in the world for Jewish young professionals, you guessed it.. Tel Aviv. Last year over 400 women in Tel Aviv joined Rebbitzens Yemima Mizrachi and the JWRP’s Lori Palatnik in baking Challah, and this year Tel Aviv’s Great Challah bake matched those astounding numbers, but according to eye witness accounts who attended both Bakes, this year exceeded last years explosive energy.
Tanya Greenberg was The Chief’s Rabbi’s assistant is South Africa and is now the Director of the Shabbat Project in Israel noted, “The response in Israel for the Shabbat project this year has surpassed any expectations. Over 140 towns and cities participated but more inspiring than this has been the way so many people from so many backgrounds have united to bring the Shabbat Project to their cities. Tel Aviv is such an example. Last year there were five events, this year the White City truly outdid themselves with over 30 events for the project including challah bakes, shabbat meals and Shabbat Hubs bringing in incredible speakers from across the country. The energy in Tel Aviv was untouchable and not only were the participants inspired and energised but the speakers and organisers themselves were blown away.”
This year’s Great Challah bake was hosted by White City Shabbat and Hineni Israel. Natalie Solomon, CEO of White City Shabbat’s umbrella organization, the Am Yisrael Foundation, and Debroah Danan, volunteer and co-director of White City Shabbat, welcomed everyone and introduced founder of Hineni Rebbitzen Esther zt”Jungreis’ granddaughter, Shaindy Eisenberg to begin the spectacular speeches. Offering words of wisdom in the tradition of her legendary grandmother, Shaindy discussed the beautiful gifts of Jewish women. As she recalled mirrors in the Torah, strangers reflected on how they were truly sisters.
While braiding bread, girls danced to everything from Beyonce to Hava Nagila. Amazingly one the brightest stars in Jewish music made a guest appearance to sing with all the girls, including one very special little lady. Rebbitzen Batya Burd was scheduled to speak about the loss of her husband Gershon Burd “The Hidden Tzadik of the Old City.” Three years ago, when the couple were celebrating Gershon’s 40th birthday on the beaches of Tel Aviv, a bizarre accident occurred and the former lifeguard drowned leaving behind a widow and five children. As an act of unbelievable emuna (faith) and an effort to turn tragedy into triumph, Burd invited the audience to become part of “The Secret Chesed Chabura” were friends on Facebook could generate creditless acts of kindness in Gershon’s merit to uplift others who needed help when they least expected it. When the organisers, heard that Burd’s 10 year old daughter’s was a fan of rising Jewish singer Shaindel Antelis, they invited Shaindel to perform songs from her new album “Live Today” at the Shabbat Project as a surprise for the orphan to raise her spirits. “It was such an honor to be a musical guest at the challah bake” Shaindel said graciously, “When I walked into the venue I felt so much positive energy and light coming from everyone! We sang we danced and got to celebrate being Jewish women.” Shaindel even called up to the stage Burd’s 10 year old daughter and one of the most charismatic event coordinators of the night, “Shira Nussdorf and I got to sing a rendition of Lecha dodi together. It’s always a pleasure sharing the stage with Shira!”
One of the most touching moments as captured by the Shabbat Project official photographers was when Batya Burd received balloons on stage for each of her children on the three year and one week after yahrzeit her husband to pay tribute to the fact that Gershon, as mysterious mitzvah, privately paid for every child in the Rova of Jerusalem to get a balloon on their birthday as, famously written about in “The Secret Life of Gershon Burd” by Sara Yocheved Rigler. Rebbitzen Burd glowed, “A poetic uplifting and transformation of a traumatic experience.I felt like I picked up some sparks that fell and put them back to where they need to be.Thank you Tel Aviv challah bake – for that beautiful opportunity.” There were women of all molds in attendance and Noa Cacharel, a participant of the Shabbat project Great Challah Bake reflected, “I’ve been living in Tel Aviv for the past ten years and it was really nice as a relgious person to find such a warm place like The Great Challah Bake. It was an enriching and highly inspirational event. I sincerly hope it will be done on a monthly basis by the same dedicated organisers.”
The following evening, Zev Eizik, the benevolent owner of Hangar 11, partnered with White City Shabbat in creating a dinner hall hosting The Biggest Shabbat Dinner of 2016, packing in 1,000 Jews in Tel Aviv to toast L’chaims with holy Golan Winery. Guests from all over the world gathered together for honor the Shabbat Project. Elyakeem Kinstlinger, who travels the world to different synagogues and has started a Zaggats book explaining the fine nuances of ruach in Jews all over the globe rated The Shabbat Project Tel Aviv “5 Stars”. “My favourite ruach moments in any community I’ve seen this past year have been The Carlebach shul in New York on a Friday night, The Kotel ANYTIME, and Tel Aviv’s Shabbat Project 2016. The ruchnias at that meal with right up there with them”.
Aseph Weisz, currently learning at Aish in Jerusalem, answered the call when White City organisers sent a blast asking for bochers to bring their ruach to the Biggest Shabbat Dinner of 2016. He reminisced that the Tel Aviv vibe reminded him of Manhattan Jewish life and his college days. He said he had never gone for Shabbat in Tel Aviv and couldn’t believe all the olim he knew from America, ” It was dope. There was definitely a lot of energy channeled for a higher purpose” said Weisz. One makolet owner named Martin, whose shop the Martinya neighbours the North Central Synagoue 126 Ben Yehuda noted that this was the first Shabbat Dinner he had attended in over 20 years. He claimed that because he was a seccular Israeli, nobody every bothered to invite him for Shabbat before. However since witnessing the unbridled spirit of the community synagogue next door, he has became friendly with its members, and accepted their invitation to be a part of the Shabbat Project. He even admitted that attended he had not participated in kabbalat Shabbat since he was 18, but joined 126 Ben Yehuda’s Vad member Moise Javedanfar for services before walking over with him to The Namal Port. Goyo Grego, who came to Tel Aviv all the way from Bat Ayin said fondly, “The Biggest Dinner of 2016 aroused in me a love for everyone that arrived in whatever form their came. So fulfilling to be in a place with so many people that everyone just wanted to share love and have a great time! Also, standing on a chair and screaming the Hamotzi bracha in front of so many people and with a gigantic challah in my hand is an unforgettable experience. Thank you!”
The Shabbat Project festivities finished Saturday night with a delicious home cooked third meal made by yours truly and sponsored by a generous donation from America at the North Central Synagogue. Following maariv was a very musical havadalah lead by 10 men from Jerusalem. 1,000 different Jewish people all shared one opinion for the first time in history. White Cit’s Shabbat’s event was heaven sent. If you didn’t experience the Biggest Dinner of 2016, ironically there are no official recordings of it, except through a thousand personal stories. But don’t worry, there’s always next Shabbat and you want to write your own…after Shabbat of course.