At times, we get phone calls asking us to help out with an organization, but how often do you contact an organization and offer to help them just because you fell in love with the organization’s goals?
A few months back I did just that with the Shabbos Project. After watching a short online video, I sent them an email asking how I can help to bring this project to fruition.
Inviting non-observant Jews for Shabbos is nothing new. The goal of the Shabbos Project is very simple; to dedicate one specific Shabbos where Jews around the world keep a halachic Shabbos in the traditional sense. The more the merrier. It’s a simple idea, no strings attached. No ulterior motives, no solicitations. I’ll explain what motivated me to participate and help spread the word.
There is an old Joke:
Two guys are learning the Talmud together for 20 years. One of the guy’s children is getting married so one said to the other one, “My child is getting married and I would like you to be one of the witnesses.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t.”
“But I really want you to.”
“You don’t understand. I just can’t.”
“But why can’t you?”
“I’m not Jewish.”
“What do you mean? We have been learning together for 20 years.”
“I enjoy the intellectual stimulation.”
“But we learned that a Gentile that keeps Shabbos is ‘chayav misah. ”
“I never kept the Shabbat. Every time I was ready to leave my house, I put a key in my pocket.”
“But we have an Eruv here.”
“I don’t hold by that Eruv.”
If Shabbos is about which Eruv you keep, then you’re truly missing out. What’s truly remarkable about Shabbos is that you can learn all Hilchos Shabbos in great detail but if you haven’t personally experienced a Shabbos you would have no clue what it’s all about. You can learn Meseches Shabbos backwards and forwards but if you haven’t sat at a Shabbos table you will have all the wrong ideas.
Ask any religious Jew what Mitzvah he loves most, and 9 out of 10 will say Shabbos. Ironically, at the same time we take Shabbos for granted, probably because we never lived without it. This was brought to my attention last year. There was an initiative to get our communities to “disconnect” for one day a year. It was a beautiful idea to remove all distractions from our lives, but it seems we didn’t even realize that we all already practice this behavior one day a week. Furthermore, we don’t just disconnect from our daily distractions but we connect to what’s truly important.
Many studies tell us the same thing, that the biggest regret people have in their old age is not having spent enough time with the people we truly love. Working too much at the expense of family and friendships. Shabbos corrects that wrong. I think we can all use a reminder about this great gift that we have. Here is our chance to share something that we love and appreciate with others as well. And many times, through doing just that, we learn to appreciate it even more.
A few years ago on a family road trip to Miami, we decided to stop at Daytona Beach and spend Shabbos with the local Chabad. The Rabbi and Rebbitzen, Rabbi Pinchas and Chani Ezagui, are fantastic people. We showed up for the Shabbos day meal and enjoyed it very much. We marveled at the guests who kept coming and going. As the meal progressed I listened to each guest’s story. How much it meant to them that Chabad moved into the neighborhood. Some had tears in their eyes as they explained how amazing it was to have a place that they can feel at home. That they never felt connected to anything before. In fact the stories and entertainment kept on going for so long that I asked the guy next to me when the meal was expected to end. He replied that it doesn’t. The seuda lasted straight until Seudah Shlishit. I left with a whole new meaning of Shabbos, and what having a connection to Judaism can mean for people that don’t have it.
I think everyone has their own way of making sure Shabbos is enjoyable. I know one very respectable Rabbi that surprisingly limited the amount of divrei torah and Zemiros at the Shabbos table because he believed it was becoming too boring for his family.
Adults might be happy to just have a day of rest and relaxation but teens need a bit more. In camp, besides for the awesome Zemiros we have, which can sometimes go on for hours, we also instituted some new ideas. Shabbos afternoon we debate challenges that teens face these days and other current events. One idea, “Safe circle” where at each meal a random camper tells us about themselves and some interesting life experiences they had, always interests and amuses the crowd. It’s a shame that the popular Pirchei programs that we had as kids are not as common today.
I was shocked to learn the amount of unaffiliated Jews who live in my section of Marine Park, Brooklyn. My wife, being very friendly with all the neighbors, keeps me updated with each one of their lives, stories that they have shared with her over the years. While many are far removed from anything religious there is no doubt they all have a spark within that is waiting to be lit. I hope many of them will participate in this program.
How Marine Park will operate the Shabbos Project is still being worked on. There are many people and organizations involved in implementing the project so that it is successful, but ultimately each shul and each family will decide the best way for them. Some may choose a community meal while others will keep it simple and more personal. The only help needed at this point is to make sure you and your friends are participating. So, who are YOU inviting for Shabbos?!
For more information google The Shabbos Project.
(this article was written for my local Marine Park Jewish Echo magazine)
I also wrote a short FAQ The Shabbos Project FAQ