July 13, 2024
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Bergen Shuls Participate in Global Unity Project “Shabbat 2014”

On the Shabbat of Parshat Noach, October 24–25, four Bergen County synagogues will participate in the second annual program of The Shabbos Project, an international initiative designed to unite the global Jewish community by helping them experience how Sabbath observance can enhance their lives. Shabbos (or Shabbat), a treasured foundation of life for Orthodox Jews, will be proactively extended to the broader Jewish community on “Shabbat 2014.” The Orthodox Union (OU) and the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) have joined with several outreach groups to reach Jews of all backgrounds to facilitate the communal observance of one Shabbat.

The program will take place in more than 170 cities and 30 countries around the world and will be happening locally at Congregations Bnai Yeshurun and Ohr Saadya of Teaneck, and Congregations Beth Abraham and Ohr Hatorah of Bergenfield. “Shabbat 2014” aspires to get as many people as possible to open their homes on Shabbat to bring Jews from diverse backgrounds together, and to share the Shabbat experience with as many Jews as possible.

OU member synagogues across North America were invited to take part in this successful mission started last year by Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein in South Africa, in which 35,000 South African Jews kept the Shabbat of Parshat Lech Lecha, many for the first time. Congregations were encouraged to engage their membership in promoting Shabbat observance. Participating outreach groups include NCSY, the OU’s international youth arm; National Council of Young Israel; The Heart to Heart Project; Gateways; UJA-Federation of New York; Jewish International Connection of New York (JICNY); Manhattan Jewish Experience (MJE); and Shabbat.com, a global Jewish social networking website that helps people to connect and meet for Shabbat meals.

Rabbi Steven Weil, OU Senior Managing Director, noted: “This summer, when our boys, not knowing if they would ever come back from the Gaza, went out to war to protect Israel, the Jewish people unified; we were one people, one power,” he said on the OU website. “When 80% of our precious, tiny homeland was under rocket fire, we were one nation unified in our support of our soldiers, supporting our people. Once again all of the Jewish people will unite as one for a special Shabbat with no Jew left behind. So open up your tables, open up your homes and your communities this October 24–25. Am Yisrael Chai.”

Manager of programs and special projects Hannah Farkas explained that the OU provides resources and program consultations to enhance the weekend, including programming templates ranging from materials for Thursday evening with challah recipes to the Friday night experience to Shabbat day to a joyful communal Havdalah. The OU included social media assistance and youth programming ideas as part of the OU’s Youth Professionals Network and also provides consultations on tailoring a program to the individual community.

Rabbi Weil emphasized how crucial it is for Bergen County communities specifically to take part in this initiative: “Orthodox residents of Bergen County, a community alive with Jewish resources, sometimes take certain things for granted, including characteristic Friday night activities. Most Jewish Americans are not exposed to the beauty of Shabbat: families routinely putting their technology aside, singing together around the table, enjoying a four-course meal and often meaningful discussions, sometimes inter-generationally,” he said.

“The most powerful gift we have to offer fellow Jews is a Shabbat meal experience. Friday night should be dedicated to those who want to experience Shabbat. Every member of our community has relatives, friends, and colleagues who would appreciate an invitation.”

Many OU synagogues across the country are participating in “Shabbat 2014,” including shuls in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Tennessee. In Canada, participating synagogues are in Quebec and Ontario. The University of Maryland Hillel, a partner in the OU’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus program, is also involved. One synagogue has announced that it will bring Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform congregations together for Shabbat dinner after they hold their separate services.

Rabbi Judah Isaacs, the director of OU Community Engagement, said, “We know that for so many people, once they have experienced Shabbat, they will come back for more until it becomes a regular feature of their lives. Each synagogue will determine how they want to celebrate Shabbat 2014–each can choose its own approach.”

“Orthodox Jews should feel some responsibility for our fellow Jews,” said Rabbi Weil. “Ultimately this program should be a stimulus. An unaffiliated Jew might be lost during synagogue services, but no one gets lost in the glow of the Shabbos table.”

By Lisa Matkowsky

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