Concerns about the future of Jewish life and its continuity keep many community leaders, philanthropists and Jewish census professionals preoccupied. Overwhelmingly, it seems most agree that “the Jewish future can only be secured by ensuring the continued existence and flourishing of practicing, believing, involved Jews.”
Chabad-Lubavitch Shluchim appreciate this intuitively. It’s the impetus for Chabad’s colorful, diverse and comprehensive programs that reach out to Jewish people across the spectrum, and especially to children—the key to Jewish continuity.
When 40 children arrive at Chabad’s Chai Center in Wilmette, Illinois this Thursday night, cooking stations will be there to greet them. Decked out in personalized aprons, the junior chefs will prepare Shabbat dinner for 120 guests. When they have finished cooking gefilte fish, salads, and desserts, these Hebrew School students will decorate and set a dozen tables.
“Our One Shabbat One World concludes four weeks of an intensive Shabbat curriculum, including the how, what, when, and why of Shabbat observance,” says Rivke Flinkenstein. “But there is nothing like the actual Shabbat experience to illustrate how special this day is. And it all starts Thursday night when we gather to prepare the food.”
The Jewish community of Wilmette, 14 miles from downtown Chicago, is joining 300 other communities around the globe in the fifth annual “One Shabbat One World.” The idea, explains organizer Rabbi Chaim Hershkowitz, is for Jews of all ages and backgrounds to unite at a Shabbat table and explore the concepts of Shabbat and its redemptive power. “There is a well-known maxim in the Talmud,” Hershokowitz says, “that guarantees that when the entire Jewish nation keeps one Shabbat, Moshiach will come.”
According to Rabbi Dovie Shapiro, director of Chabad at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, those at his table are getting a taste of the Messianic era along with their matzo ball soup. “When students sit around our Shabbat table it does not make a difference if they know Hebrew or if they had a bar or bat mitzvah, all that matters is that they’re Jewish. This is how it will be in the times of Moshiach when all the boundaries that divide us will fall by the wayside.”
Jordan Grelewicz is an NAU sophomore who attends Friday night dinner at Chabad each week. “If you go to a bar or party, you have such a disconnected, empty feeling,” he says, “while at Chabad, you not only connect with Judaism on a meaningful level, but also share a really good meal with really good friends.”
This week, Grelewitz is hoping to be joined by 50 other Jewish students. “This is my main social outlet here,” he says, “all my friends go to Chabad—and I expect that we will be friends for life.”
The social aspect is a large part of what makes Shabbat so appealing. “I host guests every Shabbat,” states Flinkenstein, “and after we have talked and eaten together for a few hours, they comment on ‘how magical the evening was,’ and ask for recipes and advice on how to establish their own Shabbat rituals.” With an overflow crowd expected this Friday night, Flinkenstein hopes that the shared experience will “strengthen people and allow them to see the beauty and blessing that Shabbat is.”
In Calgary, Alberta, Rabbi Mordechai Groner says that community members have had One Shabbat One World on their calendars for months. On a regular Shabbat, approximately 50 people visit the Chabad center. This week, though, organizers have had to close registration as over 90 people have signed up, and there simply is no more space. This is the first year that the center is hosting a full Shabbat of activities, and Groner says that this variety makes it more accessible.
“We have many more participants than ever before, and completely new crowds are attending this year. Even if someone cannot make it Friday night, he can attend Shabbat morning or Saturday night.” Australian mystic, Rabbi Laibl Wolf, is the weekend’s presenter and it appears that his presence is causing quite a stir in this frosty city. Shabbat’s meals and lectures will reflect his theme: how to maintain a positive outlook in the current global uncertainty.
“We will spend this Shabbat immersed in study and rest,” says Groner. “It will be just like the times of Moshiach, when we will be able to learn constantly.”
In Wilmette, Flagstaff, Calgary and hundreds of other cities around the globe, there is a lot of work to be done before the candles will usher in this unique Shabbat.
But even the work is fun. “”Usually the guys come an hour or so before and help set up the tables,” says Grelewicz. “This just gives me more time to ask the rabbi any question of my mind (including the logistics of Shabbat in Alaska and the presence of mythical creatures in Judaism). It also allows me to get to know the other Jewish students even better.”
For Grelewicz at least, Shabbat is about the “three F’s of food, friends, and fun.” One Shabbat One World, playing at 300 Chabad centers around the world, should have all three.