If you haven’t yet heard about the Chief Rabbi’s Shabbat UK, you soon will. It’s set to be one of the most ambitious and wide-reaching projects ever undertaken by the Jewish community in the UK.
The story of Shabbat UK began last year in South Africa, with Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein who wanted to unite the Jewish community of South Africa in a unique way. He posed a challenge to his community – that regardless of their level of religious affiliation or the pressures of their busy lives, they would experience one traditional Shabbat all together. Mobile phones and iPads were to be switched off. There would be no watching television, listening to the radio or use of social media.
No travel by car, shopping and certainly no work. The response was extraordinary. Families who were otherwise entirely secular, saw an opportunity to forget about the pressures of their daily lives for 25 hours and focus much more on their family, friends and community.
And so, on 11 and 12 October 2013, innumerable communal meals and Shabbat events were organised and thousands of Jews observed Shabbat together.
The overwhelming success was such that one year on, an even more ambitious question was raised – could the project go international?
In the UK, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis answered that question with Shabbat UK. Next month (24 and 25 October), the Chief Rabbi is calling for Jews across the UK to join the millions of others worldwide who will be experiencing a Shabbat like no other.
The idea is that every Jew, whatever their background, will do something special to mark the occasion and experience an enhanced Shabbat. “Shabbat is so powerful.
It brings the Jewish world together,” he said. “It gives us meaning and joy, it uplifts the spirit.
“Shabbat gives me an opportunity to spend time with my family, to fuel my connection with the community, to engage in spiritually uplifting activities and to appreciate what is really important in life.”
The campaign has already had a fantastic response. More than 100 shuls, schools and community organisations are already signed up to put on some kind of programme to mark Shabbat UK and organisers say that figure is likely to double by the time the actual day arrives.
Rabbi Daniel Rowe, educational director of Aish UK, who has been asked by the Office of the Chief Rabbi to spearhead the project, told Jewish News: “At its heart, Shabbat UK is a grassroots campaign and we’re hearing every day about new programmes being developed all over the country; each one is more ambitious and impressive than the last.
“We have huge marquees for hundreds of people, incredible educational events and my personal favourite – people opening up their homes and inviting friends and family who might otherwise not be experiencing a Shabbat meal into their home.”
One of the most popular events will no doubt be a huge ‘Challah Make’ day, which will bring thousands of people together at the Allianz Park sports stadium in Hendon on Thursday, 23 October. Organised by Rebbetzin Joanne Dove of Seed, the event will be linked with communities in Leeds, Essex and Manchester.
“We hope more than 5,000 people will take part in this challah bake, with every participant getting the ingredients and an apron when they arrive,” said Rebbetzin Dove. “I have been teaching challah making for 13 years and will be sharing my recipe with everyone who takes part.
“There is something very comforting about making your own challah and I hope this event brings people together and encourages them to support Shabbat UK.
“Already, Stanmore synagogue has a bus booked to bring more than 70 members of the community to the event and if you can’t make it, local synagogues will be open so you can use their kitchen to make a challah.”
For 23-year-old Jessica Goldstein, who lives in Hampstead, getting involved in Shabbat UK has been a chance for her to focus on a tradition she loved growing up. “As I’ve got older, I’ve attended family Shabbat meals much less frequently. By marking Shabbat UK, it has given me a real opportunity to take a Friday night off from my usual routine and, instead, enjoy the occasion of sitting down with my friends and family to enjoy Shabbat.
“I love the nostalgia of Shabbat, it’s a really exciting opportunity to invite people to spend time together without having to worry about work or anything else.”
If, after reading this, you feel inspired to join in the event, the Shabbat UK website offers a number of initiatives, including Shabbat recipes and a ‘KidZone’ area, where you can find instructions on making a board game that can be played on Shabbat.
• Find out more at: www.shabbatuk.org