By Simon Apfel / Jerusalem Post
In the buildup to The International Shabbos Project, we will be bringing you profiles on some of the 170 locations taking part in this global event.
You’ll hear how they started, what they’ve done so far and what they envision for the big Shabbat of October 24/25 2014. Our first stop is Melbourne, Australia.
The International Shabbos Project has been called “the most ambitious Jewish identity initiative ever undertaken.”
The objective is to have “one Shabbat celebrated – and kept in full – across the Jewish world, by the entire Jewish people, at the same time.”
And if this sounds vaguely impossible, nobody seems to have told the head team in Johannesburg, South Africa, who since February have been working round the clock, organizing logistics, creating and refining marketing materials, building partner networks, securing international celebrity endorsements and coordinating the global initiative.
Over the past few months, nearly 1000 partners from 170 cities and 30 countries have joined together, working diligently to see that The Shabbos Project reaches the entire Jewish world. A task once thought impossible is starting to look feasible.
… Rabbi Moshe Kahn is one of the many Chabad emissaries who have been instrumental in sustaining Melbourne’s strong Jewish heartbeat.
For the past 15 years, Kahn, with his wife Dina, has spearheaded the Chabad Youth education center and run Jewish outreach and identity programmes for both school kids and students across the city.
Kahn decided to join the Shabbos Project after finding a video on YouTube that showcased last year’s successful pilot in South Africa. The video captured the deep emotions felt by individuals across the spectrum of Jewish differences in the community.
“My immediate thought was ‘[what a] great initiative – an ideal way to break down barriers between Jews of different persuasions,’ “ said Rabbi Kahn.
“I thought about it some more and [concluded,] ‘yes, from what I gather, the South African Jewish community is a fiercely traditional one – perhaps the ideal place to pilot such an initiative.’ But I saw no reason why we wouldn’t be able to replicate this success in Melbourne.
“Ours is a community hungry for Jewish identity and worthy Jewish unity initiatives, and I’ve no doubt Melbourne – like Johannesburg and Cape Town before [hand] – will embrace the Shabbos Project.”
A steering committee was established to oversee all Shabbos Project activities in Melbourne that includes prominent Melbourne community leaders, Simon De Winter, Velly Slavin, David Werdiger, Romi Szafran, Arieh Berlin and Dean Rzechta, and community rabbis Ralph Genende of Caulfield and Rabbi Chaim Cowen of Elstenwick to provide additional input.
An assortment of passionate volunteers oversee multiple subcommittees dedicated to target audiences like Shuls, Youth Groups, Young Adults, Jewish Organisations and Schools. There are also teams dedicated to non-affiliated community members, rural areas outside Melbourne’s Jewish hub and businesses.
We managed to get buy-in from large Melbourne businesses, who are encouraged to manage work schedules so that Jewish employees are free to keep Shabbat that week.
“Our main goal is to reach all demographics, making sure no one is left out,” says Solly Spiegler, who oversees rural Victoria activities.
Other teams focus on Marketing, the Challah Bake, Havdalah Concert, Fundraising, Community engagement, General Event Co-ordination and Administration. All in all, over 40 volunteers are actively working on Shabbos Project activities in Melbourne, and more than 100 organisations have already signed up.
“The Shabbos Project is being presented as the first opportunity for the whole Melbourne Jewish community to unite across the board,” says Simon De Winter, who co-chairs the Steering Committee and oversees the marketing team.
The project “has stimulated the imagination of both community organizations and individuals.
Even at this stage, our objective of 20,000 participants is looking eminently achievable.”
Connections with schools have been particularly successful. A team set up face-to-face meetings with school governing bodies and explained the Shabbos Project in detail. The response was very positive.
Eight Melbourne schools have signed up for the Shabbos Project so far.
“Some will simply promote the Shabbos Project through school assemblies, celebrity endorsements and the distribution of marketing materials. Others will more actively involved, running events such as family dinners and Shabbatons,” explains Danielle Glick of the Schools subcommittee. “Many schools will be incorporate lesson modules on Shabbat in the school curriculum during the build-up to the big Shabbat.
“The schools are such a key partner because the kids themselves can become ambassadors for the Shabbos Project – not with their peers and also at home with their families.”
Another objective is to reach people through shuls, youth groups and Jewish organisations. We’re looking for individuals who don’t keep Shabbos normally who are open to our idea and know enough about Shabbos to be interested from the outset.
The Melbourne hub’s Shabbos Project effort has drawn on research conducted by Professor Andrew Marcus of Monash University, who has studied Melbourne’s Jewish community in-depth. His research, involving more than 6000 survey respondents, provides a detailed picture of contemporary Jewish life in the city.
“Professor Marcus’s report has been an invaluable resource, helping us direct our efforts efficiently and effectively,” says Justin Kabbani, one of the team’s Marketing specialists. “He, himself, has been a source of counsel while we [were getting] this thing off the ground here in Melbourne.”
“Off the ground” is an understatement.
Through focused, highly organized endeavours and tireless passion, Melbourne’s Shabbos Project team primed the city for an explosive social movement much like the one in South Africa last year.
“Already, people everywhere are asking questions about the Shabbos Project, discussing it with their friends, expressing interest and excitement,” says De Winter. “People are realizing that this is the chance to participate in something truly special.”
“There can be no doubt the Shabbos Project has great potential,” he says.
“The global scope of the initiative is hugely ambitious, but [judging] simply on the level of enthusiasm… in Melbourne so far, this is something that really… captures people’s hearts.
“If there’s one thing all Jews around the world can get behind, it’s the Shabbos Project…”