The Great (Indoor) Challah Bake

Johannesburg, South Africa

Doubly protected from the elements by a thick concrete ceiling and almost 2 000 multicoloured umbrellas suspended by kilometres of cable, the rooftop parking lot of Norwood Mall served as the venue for 2015’s Challah Bake and Havdallah Concert. Said Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein at the Challah Bake, “There was no chance we were going to let you all get wet again,” to the laughter of thousands of women who had been drenched at the previous year’s event. About 6 000 women – sisters, bobbas, mommies, aunties, cousins and friends, lined up alongside packed bowls of ingredients, coloured spoons, aprons and prayer cards, energised by their sheer numbers and the knowledge that they were making history at the largest challah bake the world has ever seen.

Israeli rock band The Solomon Brothers entertained the crowd with covers as well as original music, from a specially built stage with marquee lights spelling the word TOGETHER, which set the mood for unity. Yocheved Bacher and Mashi Lipskar served as guides through the process of turning the ingredients into dough, and the crowd was treated to a cappella group Honey. Gina Goldstein wrapped things up, followed by jubilant dancing to more from The Solomon Brothers.

A table was set up for The Shabbat Project’s social media team to stream updates from around the world, as well as update social media platforms in real-time. Says social media manager Keren Finger, “For the first time, we used a program called Tint, which tracks hashtags around the world, and we displayed them on huge screens around the venue so that people could see what was happening at other challah bakes around the world.

A  viral video crafted by high school kids gets Joburg youth involved in The Shabbat Project

After the the Challah Bake, around 200 Jewish youth from high schools around Joburg descended en masse on Norwood Mall rooftop to make The Shabbat Project their own, bringing guitars and drums to rock with The Solomon Brothers. The initiative was born out of an invitation from the Chief Rabbi to student leaders to enjoy a meal in his sukkah. The students had the idea to invite their friends to celebrate The Shabbat Project after the Challah Bake. The Shabbat Project team helped them craft a video, which went viral over social media and drew their friends into The Shabbat Project. Dani Orkin did facepainting at the Challah Bake, and the tisch and a Shabbat Project backdrop served as the place to be, where professional photographers were on hand to snap you and your friends. Once the pics were posted to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, people had lots of fun playing ‘tag’.                                                      

Havdallah Concert

People returned in their thousands to the Concert with The Solomon Brothers, despite the fact that Sout same venue for the Havdallah h Africa was playing New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals, which had begun earlier that day. The Shabbat Project team had pre-empted the possible drop in numbers attending the concert, and even in keeping Shabbat, with the “You can’t record Shabbat” and “No spoilers” campaigns. Seating areas were set up at the Havdallah Concert to allow for a postconcert screening of the match for those still in the dark about the outcome, and whoever wanted to watch the full game they had missed by keeping it together.

Shabbat Project t-shirts were handed out to children at the concert, and multi-wicked candles and bright pink “soul-lift” spice boxes were also handed out for Havdallah.                                                     

The Shabbat Project’s dynamic and diverse team of copywriters, designers, project managers, videographers, partner liaisons and event managers enjoyed an authentic Shabbat dinner at the home of creative director Laurence Horwitz and his wife Amanda. Says copywriter Tracy Essers, “Usually,

when the team works on planning an event, by the time it comes around, everyone is still working flat out. You’re not there to experience and enjoy it – you’re there to work. This was different. We were all there to enjoy Shabbat.” Accounts director in charge of operations and production Alexa Scola, who has been with The Shabbat Project’s agency the longest, and who is not Jewish, had the impression that Shabbat was a bit complicated. “I thought it would be a bit of a drama, with all the rules about electricity and such. But it was so normal. I love hanging out with the team, with people you might not spend time with out of the office. It was so warm and relaxed. So normal.” Amanda Horwitz went all out, with Sephardithemed finger food, and the team stayed till 1am, polishing off 10 challot and bottles of wine as they philosophised what “Lech lecha” meant to them individually, while the littles ones passed out on the couch.

Says Amanda, “The team could feel the months of hard work melting away into Shabbat. There was such a sense of unity and pride in what this is all about.”                                                     

Great Park Dinner for 500

Now in its third year, the dinner continues to draw crowds and leave a legacy for 500 people, many of whom moved into B&Bs in the area, or who slept over at families who lived in walking distance of the shul, so they could keep a full Shabbat. Says the shul’s Rabbi Dovid Hazdan: “For me, the real story of The Shabbat Project is its legacy. Now in it’s third year, I have a young girl who kept her first Shabbat in 2013. That ignited the flame and she has kept Shabbat ever since. She has just moved to the Torah Academy Girls High School, an observant Jewish school. Another family moved into a B&B for this year’s

Shabbat Project, to keep a full Shabbat. Their son is in our bar mitzvah programme and is taking his learning seriously. They’ve decided to move in again for the bar mitzvah Shabbat, because now they’ve had a taste of Shabbat, and so the bar mitzvah will be a second full Shabbat. Who knows where it can go from there. I have many many stories like this. What a legacy.”

In previous years, the shul hosted The Shabbat Project dinner down a street block, but the huge numbers prevented them from creating a real Shabbat atmosphere of inclusivity. So this year they created a circular table within the shul grounds, with a handle extending out. The Shabbat Project’s

Yisroel Glass arranged for 15 young men to help coordinate singing and a cohesive Shabbat vibe, which was hugely successful. “The singing has us all elated. People were floating on clouds,” says Rabbi Hazdan. The shul’s secretary Sandy Budin, who took all the bookings for this dinner, was not able to attend – she was also keeping a full Shabbat, and was therefore attending a shul closer to her home!                                                      

Two shuls situated less than 500m away from each other united their communities for the second time, for a Shabbat Project dinner under the stars. Even bigger than 2014, 1 000 people were seated along three parallel tables stretching down the street between the two shuls, with fairy lights, bunting and lanterns and all white decor creating a beautiful festive atmosphere. The shul rabbis, Rabbi Eitan Ash and Rabbi Dovi Goldstein, strongly believe in celebrating the power of Jewish unity.

Disclaimer

This is an excerpt from The Shabbos Project 2015 International Report. To read more about the Shabbat activities of more than 50 other cities worldwide during last year’s Shabbos Project, click here

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