Jewish communities across the globe united to strengthen observance of the Sabbath this weekend, with Chabad-Lubavitch centers experiencing larger-than-normal crowds for what had been dubbed “One Shabbat, One World.”
For weeks, a public education campaign coordinated by Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, noted that the grind of life’s daily routines often take a toll on a person’s spirituality and general sense of well-being. In addition to serving as a chance to reconnect to G-d, they stressed, the Jewish Sabbath offers a time-out period, a day to nourish the soul through prayer, song, togetherness and food.
“We want all Jews to have an awareness of Shabbat,” said Rabbi Moshe Wilansky, the Portland-based director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Maine.
For the “One Shabbat” program at his synagogue, Wilansky invited noted Talmudic expert Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe, permanent scholar-in-residence at Chabad at Harvard. Throughout the day, Yaffe intrigued guests with discussions on how to attain peace and clarity in a rapidly-changing world, said Wilansky.
“ ‘One Shabbat, One World’ is a tremendous united effort to get every Jew throughout the world involved in the beauty and tradition of Shabbat,” noted Rabbi Mendy Kasowitz, director of the Lubavitch Center of Essex County in West Orange, N.J.
Touched by the effort was Hagit Oren, who was introduced to Kasowitz’s Chabad House just this past Tuesday and decided to show up for the Sabbath candle-lighting ceremony Friday night.
“The candle-lighting started a magical Shabbat that brought so much joy, unconditional love, support and unity to our family,” she said Saturday night. “It filled my soul with so much light.
“It was a privilege,” continued Oren, “to be in a room filled with individuals who all shared the same moments of happiness and pure joy.”
After lighting the Sabbath candles, congregants in West Orange – as in thousands of locations worldwide – gathered in song and prayer.
“Everyone was smiling, enjoying, singing, and schmoozing,” said Lubavitch Center co-director Altie Kasowitz. “The yummy food always helps,” she added with a laugh.
While all participating centers held communal Sabbath dinners, not all featured a traditional menu. Rabbi Mordechai and Yehudis Newman in Alexandria, Va., decided on an Oriental-themed dinner, combining traditional challah bread with pepper steak, lo mein and fried rice.
No matter the location or menu, strangers connected to their Jewish heritage, said participants.
“There were three other students sitting across from me at the table,” said Eliana Hendler, a student at Stern College. “We didn’t know each other, but we connected immediately. We were able to talk about the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute classes that we were all taking.”
“Chabad attracts Jews from across the spectrum,” asserted Margot Freeman, who has frequented Chabad Houses across the globe. “What we saw at the Shabbat dinner last night represents American Jewry from all over the place. Everybody across the board felt comfortable in that environment. People who had never been acquainted with Chabad felt as comfortable as those who have been with Chabad for 20 years.”
“There was a lot of kinship,” added Chava Green. “The experience connected people in a way that it might take weeks to develop in another context. People who had just met each other were immediately exchanging conversation and experiences in their own Judaism. We discussed what our Judaism meant to us.”