By Beverley Uria, as told to Leanne Israelstam

In November 2013, my family had the privilege of being in South Africa for the first ever Shabbos Project. This initiative involved thousands of South African Jews from all different levels of observance and affiliation committing themselves to keeping an entire Shabbat from sunset on Friday night to sundown on Saturday evening.  

During the weeks leading up to the the designated Shabbat there was so much hype and excitement surrounding the project.  Everyone we saw was talking about their plans for Shabbat, where they were going for meals, who they were staying at and how far they were walking to the synagogue.  The enthusiasm was so infectious that we found ourselves getting caught up in it and committing to keep the Shabbat.

The Shabbos Project was kicked off by the women in the community who gathered in the streets in the thousands to make challah and to say the bracha together. The energy was amazing and uplifting. There was a unity between fellow Jews that we had never experienced before.

On Friday night the synagogues were packed to capacity and amazingly the parking lots were empty as 90% of the community, who do not define themselves as observant (they do not keep Shabbat, kosher or attend synagogue on  regular basis) undertook to keep Shabbat according to Halacha, Jewish law. The streets were filled with Jews walking, and there were very few cars on the roads in the Jewish areas. 

Our Shabbat celebration was spent with family and friends.  It was a day of complete disconnection from the distractions and daily pressures that we usually face when visiting our family and friends in South Africa. We put away our electronic devices and cell phones and didn’t meet friends at the local shopping malls.  It became a day of family, connecting to new people and a day of spiritual reconnection which was inspiring and special.  

The Shabbos Project website provided a Shabbat observance toolkit with audio clips of prayers, stories and words of Torah showing us that keeping Shabbat was something we could ALL do no matter what our backgrounds are.

Shabbat ended with a sensational havdalah concert that was attended by thousands of people. It was a perfect end to a beautiful day leaving us uplifted and inspired. We returned to Cleveland on a spiritual high. 

In 2014, the Shabbos Project took the Jewish world by storm with people from very different backgrounds using it as opportunity to unite as Jews all over the world.   An estimated 1,000,000 Jews, from more than 465 cities across the globe, came together to celebrate our Shabbat.

When we were approached earlier this year to be part of the committee to bring the Shabbos Project to Cleveland, it was something we could not turn down. As proud Jews who have deep roots to the South African community, we are committed to bringing this very special celebration of Shabbat to ALL the Jews of Cleveland.

We are excited about how the planning for the Challah Bake and the Havdalah Concert are coming together . There are also many different options planned for celebrating Shabbat – there is an option for everyone.

We are thrilled with the response we have received from the different communities in Cleveland, and we are even more excited about the individuals who are working with us and who are committed to making the Shabbos Project Cleveland a huge success.

Join us in celebrating our Jewish heritage  from October 22- 24.

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