TEL AVIV – Over 1,000 people gathered for an enormous Shabbat meal at the Tel Aviv port in honor of the worldwide Shabbat Project on Friday night.
The event, hosted by White City Shabbat, brought together new immigrants, veteran Israelis, young professionals, senior citizens, celebrities and members of Knesset at Hangar 11, one of Israel’s largest event venues.
The Shabbat Project was spearheaded in 2013 in South Africa by the country’s chief rabbi, Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein. Three years later the initiative spread like wildfire to other countries, attracting a million Jews from 115ze0 cities all over the world to experience their shared Sabbath heritage with observance, communal meals and prayer services under the banner of #KeepingItTogether.
Friday night’s event attracted people – religious and secular alike – from all over the country. The evening began with traditional Friday night prayer services led by Rabbi Lior Sinai and was followed by a three-course meal washed down by whiskey, vodka and some 500 bottles of wine, courtesy of the famed Golan Heights Winery.
One attendee, Mor Goshen from the northern Israeli city of Afula, admitted that spending a Shabbat dinner with so many people wasn’t exactly up her alley.
“For me Shabbat dinners are usually a more intimate event, mostly spent among family members or close friends,” she told Breitbart Jerusalem. “But then I got to the venue and was just so moved by what I saw. [White City Shabbat’s] passion to help young olim [immigrants] feel at home in our eternal homeland is contagious and it is also exactly what makes even a thousand-person Shabbat dinner in a huge hangar feel like family.”
A group of Orthodox men from Jerusalem, some of whom are studying in yeshiva, came with the aim of getting the crowd going by singing Shabbat songs well into the night.
Dave Silverman, who led the singing and dancing, said he was bowled over by the “holiness” of people in Tel Aviv and thankful that he was able “to make an impact on others” and himself.
Jerry Gruskin, a New Jersey native now living in Jerusalem, agreed.
“It was an amazing experience. It was great to see so many different people share Shabbat together from all over the country and it was a very homey feeling, which is important,” Gruskin said.
“Also the variety of personalities was such a breath of fresh air,” he added.
Another Jerusalem resident, who identified himself only as Shlomo M., said he was taken by surprise that Jewish life even existed in Tel Aviv, a city often thought of as Israel’s secular capital.
“In Jerusalem you take it for granted so I was really amazed and surprised by the amount of people, the interaction, and the participation of Shabbat programming that you have here in Tel Aviv,” he said.
Co-director of White City Shabbat, Eytan White, said he’s used to misconceptions about Tel Aviv.
“What people don’t realize is that Jewish life is actually thriving here,” White, who has volunteered for the organization for the past five years, said. “White City Shabbat is a portal for Jewish communal experience here in Tel Aviv and because it’s inclusive, open and – no less important – fun, it attracts many thousands of people from all different backgrounds. Friday night was just one example of that.”
White noted that were it not for the benevolence of sponsors such as Zev Eizik, the owner of Hangar 11, and the extraordinary dedication of the organization’s volunteers, the vision for such an epic event would never have been realized.
A day before the dinner White City Shabbat also hosted a giant Challah bake together with Hineni, a Jewish non-profit founded by renowned Jewish educator and Holocaust survivor Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, who passed away in August.
The event gathered some 450 women to make Challah, the traditional Jewish bread eaten on Shabbat, joining hundreds of thousands of women participating in similar bakes all over the world. Women kneaded their dough to the beat of music blaring from the speakers from mega-divas like Beyoncé to popular Hassidic tunes sung live on stage by Jerusalem songstress Shaindel Antelis.
Shira Nussdorf, one of the volunteers in charge of organizing the event, described the atmosphere as “electric.”
“After receiving feedback from girls who said how amazing the night was for them, I truly understand the Torah[‘s lesson] which says those who give really receive,” Nussdorf, a New York City native now living in Tel Aviv, said.
Batya Burd and Shaindy Eisenburg, the latter of whom is Rebbetzin Jungreis’ granddaughter and the founder of Hineni’s Israel chapter, gave moving addresses to the crowd.
Natalie Solomon, the CEO of White City Shabbat’s umbrella organization, the Am Yisrael Foundation, said the Challah bake was the perfect recipe for combating the cynicism sweeping the media and the world.
“With all the gross negativity and fear in the world right now, I was so uplifted to come together with all of these amazing women to bake challah and turn the ordinary into something holy,” Solomon said.