In 2015, Los Angeles hosted a variety of events, the most notable of which was a Friday night dinner for 3 000 people billed as one of the biggest in history.

Proceedings kicked off on Thursday evening, with thousands gathering at various southern California venues to prepare challah. This included more than 1,100 women at the Ace Gallery on La Brea Boulevard, where Rose Kamin – who turned 100 years old on the night of the event – had the honour of saying a blessing over the challah dough. Kamin was making challah for the first time in her life.

Writing in aish.com, Beth Firestone, a teacher and author from Los Angeles, describes the scene:

“It’s Thursday night in Los Angeles. At the Ace Gallery hundreds of people slowly file past a 20-foot chrome statue of Vladimir Lenin’s head and up a wide concrete ramp leading to the vast venue for tonight’s event. Passing Lenin’s head, one might feel the irony and wonder what the former communist revolutionary and atheist would think of the happening about to unfold. Inside the museum, hundreds of tables were pre-set with the necessary ingredients for making challah.

“Thirteen hundred Jewish girls and women from every kind of background and affiliation would soon be mixing flour, yeast and water, kneading dough and blessing it. They would soon be singing, dancing and celebrating the beautiful mitzvah of making challah and the joy of being a Jewish woman.

“It was like something out of a dream.”

This being LA, there was suitable celebrity firepower at the event, with the challah preparation led by Joyce Azria Trojanowski, creative director of the BCBGeneration fashion label, and Jackie Engel, former resident psychologist for The Today Show, as MC.

The curtain came down on the evening with a performance by a local women’s choir, as participants spontaneously arose and began singing and dancing. 

Devorah Gordon reports that the unity characterised not just the event itself, but the preparations:

“The majority of the ingredients for the Bake were donated by Moshe Hecht of Schwartz Bakery, including a whopping 400 pounds of flour. Another 100 pounds of flour was donated by an anonymous supporter. Students from Bais Yaakov pre-measured the flour, while Bnos Devorah students took charge of the sugar and yeast, and YULA students measured the salt, which was provided by Pico Glatt. Aluminium pans were donated by Western Kosher and Glatt Mart – and for all those boxes of disposable gloves, we had our local orthodontists and dentists, Dr Alexander Waldman, Dr Bendik, and Dr Darren Hirt to thank.”

The following evening, one of the most remarkable Shabbat Project events yet seen anywhere in the world took place. Pico Boulevard was shut down as more than 3 000 people sat down to a Friday night Shabbat dinner billed as one of the biggest in history. The “Shabbat of Unity” dinner, also known as “Shabbat Project 3000”, saw 300 tables stretching five city blocks (between South Beverly Drive and Doheny Drive) laid out with the finest Shabbat delicacies. Another 500 people arrived after dinner to continue the festivities. The event was overseen by 20 LAPD officers, 20 neighbourhood watch representatives, several Hatzolah personnel and 70 private security officers.

Shia Altman, who first heard about the initiative a week before, said that he felt “some kind of excitement in the air, a kind of electricity”.

“The gathering included young and old, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, observant and nonobservant alike,” said Altman. “There were rows and rows of tables as far as the eye could see. There was hand-shaking and greetings of ‘Shabbat Shalom’ between people who knew each other and between many who did not. Spontaneous dancing erupted before the meal as participants snaked their way around the tables. The event was living up to its unity billing.”

Firestone called it “breathtaking in size and scope”. 

“Imagine 3 000 Jews, eating a Shabbos meal, singing Shalom Aleichem, making Kiddush, spontaneously breaking into song and dance, and walking from table to table getting to know each other. It was orderly, it was holy and it was unifying.”

Seeing so many different Jews together in such high spirits, Pico-Robertson resident Aliza Marton said she “completely lost it”.

“I just started crying. We sat with a non-religious family from a different synagogue that we had never met. We all bensched out loud, together. You felt so proud in that environment.”

The spirit and energy of the two mega-events spilled over into the rest of Shabbat. Shuls throughout LA were enthusiastic partners of The Shabbat Project, including: Aish LA, which, in conjunction with the Happy Minyan and Pico Shul, hosted a Carlebach Kabbalat Shabbat service for 350 people, and held a “Beginner’s Minyan” on Shabbat morning for 200 participants; Westwood congregation, which hosted a children’s carnival, and set up members new to the Shabbat experience with meals and accommodation; Ledor Vador, which hosted a communal lunch with five Druze IDF heroes as special guests; and Beverlywood Synagogue, where a Seudah Shlishit event drew 150 women of all backgrounds.

Michelle Katz reports from her area that throughout Shabbat, “there was barely a car on the road. Very quiet and relaxed. People were greeting total strangers with ‘Shabbat shalom’. A real feeling of Jewish unity.”

For LA’s Shabbat Project grand finale, worldrenowned Jewish singer and composer Sam Glaser led a musical Havdallah concert at the Pico Shul.

“The standing-room only crowd in the Pico Shul sang and danced as they escorted out the Shabbos Queen,” wrote Gordon.

Meanwhile, a smaller gathering of women in Aliza Marton’s dining room participated in an equally special Havdallah service.

“When my husband makes Havdallah, our minhag is that my kids all take their own candle and light it from the Havdallah candle, to bring some of the light of Shabbat into the week,” says Martin. “For this Shabbat, I had bought hundreds of tea lights beforehand and gave one to every woman. The room was filled with lights. “All of those lights were not only witness to the beauty of the community of Jews who came together, but represented the abundance of light that, without doubt, was brought into the world on the Shabbos of 23-24 October 2015.”

“I believe that in life, if you do the right thing, your desires will happen,” Josh explains. “Bringing Jews of different backgrounds together is an amazing idea, especially now, with everything going on in the world, it’s a perfect time to come together.” – Josh Golcheh, lead orchestrator of the “Shabbat Project 3 000” dinne

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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