This weekend, over 100,000 people took part in events to mark Shabbat UK. Suzanne Baum was one of them and here she describes the incredible atmosphere had at her synagogue.

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The front of Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue

It was always going to be a noisy event. Having regularly experienced hordes of people attend my synagogue during the High Holy Days, the thought of over 700 guests packed into Hampstead Garden Suburb synagogue was surely going to be a balagan. How wrong I was!

In fact, I was so pleased I made the decision to attend my synagogue’s Friday night Shabbat UK event that three days on I’m still on a high.  Yes, I did drink far too much whiskey but even without the alcohol, it was one of the most uplifting and enjoyable events I have been a part of.

After five months of planning, the organisers of the event have every right to feel proud. The atmosphere throughout the evening was electric; from the Havdalah candle lighting to the Friday night service, the meal in itself and the post-dinner entertainment, everywhere you looked people just looked happy.

Shabbat UK’s aim to bring the community together and mark Shabbat in a unique way was achieved at Hampstead Garden Suburb.  And there were many different reasons why; meticulous planning, excellent food, superb guest speakers, beautifully decorated rooms and even entertainment for the kids was spot on. It was a chance to mix with people you wouldn’t necessarily normally have a meal with and engage with both regular members of the shul and those, like me, who attend infrequently.

Despite being married to the son of a rabbi I am not a regular shul-goer so don’t really know what it means to feel involved in a ‘community’. However, after Friday night at Norrice Lea I truly felt it. Not being a spiritual person I had an insight into what it meant to be uplifted by Shabbat; looking around at the hundreds of people joining in the Friday night synagogue service songs was truly wonderful. And the organisation of bringing so many people together looked like it had been done effortlessly.

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The synagogue marquee

Behind the scenes it had taken weeks of planning. Catering for an event of over 700 guests was always going to be a massive project. Every part of the synagogue was set up to accommodate different groups of people-families, couples, teenagers, youth and those with toddlers and babies. We found ourselves placed alongside 200 other young families in a beautiful marquee at the back of the shul.

It looked magical. Even my teenage boys who have to be bribed to step foot into shul managed to give it a thumbs up.

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Beautifully transformed: The synagogue hall

“The weekend activities totally invigorated our synagogue,” said Carolyn Bogush, who together with her husband Gideon Smith organised the event, which also saw hundreds gathering for Shabbat lunches over the weekend. “It was a massive success and we have had only positive feedback.

“We had an incredible team of 80 volunteers and it was wonderful to see the community brought together.”

For me, aside from enjoying the food, company and atmosphere, there was one thing that stood out above anything else.

Having felt somewhat uneasy these past few months following the rise of anti-Semitism, it was the first time I had been surrounded by so many Jewish people in one room and it felt good. And I have no doubt that the thousands of other people who celebrated Shabbat UK within their own communities felt the same!

 

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