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A Holy Day for the Holy Land

Yonoson Rosenblum

The Holy Land should be the most natural place to observe the Holy Day, but to all too many secular Israelis, “Shabbos” calls to mind concepts far less tantalizing than cholent or silver candlesticks. The day we associate with serenity and unity means, to them, religious coercion, separatism, and hordes of black-clad protesters. So Rabbi Warren Goldstein met a fair share of skepticism when he aimed to bring his Shabbos Project to Israel.

Monday, October 12, 2015

“I am an unapologetic optimist about Israeli society’s natural connection to Hashem and Torah,” South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein tells me in one of our recent conversations about the upcoming Shabbos Project in Israel. That trademark optimism was much needed when he first started planning how to join Israel to the worldwide Shabbos Project last year. The conventional wisdom was that the ongoing conflicts in Israeli society over matters of religion in general, and Shabbos in particular — e.g., the battles over Bar-Ilan Street in Jerusalem, repeated clashes over Shabbos closing laws and their enforcement or the lack thereof, the advancing “black hordes” as a recurring motif in election propaganda — would render futile any attempt to involve a broad cross section of Israeli Jews in experiencing a full Shabbos. Despite those fears, last year the Shabbos Project mounted a massive social media campaign and placed advertisements on hundreds of buses and 30-foot billboards at major intersections. “We extended a handshake to Israeli society,” says campaign strategist Robby Nissan, “and our hand was firmly grasped in return.” The Shabbos Project Facebook page had 40,000 followers, almost all non-Shabbos observant, and connected to another 700,000. Israel HaYom, Israel’s largest circulation newspaper, carried a writer’s account of her first full Shabbos. 

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