By Rabbi Malcolm Herman, Associate National Director, Seed
Sometimes in life we must take risks. One Sunday afternoon, I took the momentous decision to go out with the family and leave my mobile behind. I knew it was a risk.
The world might collapse without instant accessibility. To my surprise (and, if I am honest, to my disappointment) the world somehow managed… and so did I. In fact, not only did I cope, I thrived.
I could give full attention to those all-important conversations without half my headspace diverted to a machine. All focus begins with exclusion.
Without soundproofing an auditorium, the music will be flooded with external disturbance. It is only by keeping noise out, that the beauty within becomes audible.
This is the essence of Shabbat. For 25 hours, we switch off and simultaneously switch on to a world within. The Talmud tells us that as Shabbat envelops the world, so we are gifted with an extra soul; we exist in another dimension t hat eludes us midweek.
We connect with each other, we connect with our soul personality and we connect with our Divine origins.
Last year, Chief Rabbi Goldstein of South Africa launched the Shabbos Project. His ambition was bold, almost audacious. It was to inspire the South African community en masse to keep Shabbat in its entirety.
The reaction was phenomenal, with a reputed 70 percent take-up. The weekend kicked off with a massive “challah bake” attracting thousands of women to the streets of Johannesburg, to make challah together.
The idea fired imaginations worldwide. Next weekend, on 24 and 25 October, the project goes global. Here in the UK, Chief Rabbi Mirvis, in his first few months of office, announced Shabbat UK, a version of the idea tailor-made for Anglo-Jewry, offering a broader involvement and encouraging Jews of all levels “to celebrate a Shabbat unlike any other”.
The reaction has been phenomenal.
Close to 100 communities are running events across the UK and around 3,000 people are expected at the challah bake on 23 October.
We at Seed, alongside many communal partners, have backed this project from its inception and salute the Chief Rabbi for making this a linchpin of his first year in office.
Our expertise is family education, bringing vibrant and meaningful Judaism into the home by empowering parents with Jewish knowledge and value-based parenting skills. Over the past 200 years, Judaism in the UK has largely been externalised and delegated to the synagogue and the school. These are both vital institutions, of course, but they complement the home and cannot replace it.And if the home is the centre of Judaism, Shabbat is the core of the home.
Recently the Institute for Jewish Policy Research) published its survey Strengthening Jewish Identity: What works? An analysis of Jewish Students in the UK. Among its conclusions is the following remarkable statement: “In recent decades a great deal of time and money has been invested by the community in a range of educational interventions designed to shape and strengthen people’s Jewish identities. These findings clearly demonstrate that such efforts, collectively, have an impact on the overall picture of Jewish identity development. However, they also show that their degree of impact is rather modest compared to the effects of Jewish practices and behaviour in the home, measured in three ways – regularly having Shabbat dinner, observing kashrut and the type, or flavour of Jewish upbringing experienced.”.
The timing of this report is fortuitous, coming as it does in the run-up to Shabbat UK.
We are all concerned about Jewish identity; clearly the resolution lies around our own family table. It is strange, but when I discuss Shabbat with non-observant friends, what first comes to mind is the plethora of restrictions. Yet speaking to observant friends, what first comes to mind is the unique serenity that Shabbat brings.
When Shabbat is not part of the agenda, it is difficult to imagine a week with it. Once Shabbat becomes part of life, one cannot imagine a week without it. The difference is experiential.
Outside the auditorium, one only sees the walls. But inside it, all you feel is the music. Shabbat UK offers an incredible opportunity to experience Shabbat for real and to share it with family, friends and community. Who knows, you might even hear harmonies that you have never heard before.
• Rabbi Herman is the associate national director of Seed UK.
For more details about Shabbat UK, visit www.shabbatuk.org