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Claim to Fame: Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein

C. B. Lieber

The Shabbos Project has touched the lives of millions of people around the world, and it all began with one person and one plan

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

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R aise your hand if you’ve participated in the Shabbos Project, read about the Shabbos Project, or seen advertisements for the Shabbos Project. Anyone whose hand isn’t up yet? I didn’t think so! By now, the Shabbos Project has touched the lives of millions of people around the world, and it all began with one person and one plan. That person is Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein of South Africa, who graciously consented to share his time with Jr.’s readers in honor of this year’s third incredible worldwide Shabbos.

The Shabbos Project started in South Africa four years ago, in 2013. It went global the following year, reaching 465 cities in over 60 countries. “We worked with 1,800 partners, across eight languages,” says Chief Rabbi Goldstein, the enthusiasm obvious in his voice. “Thank G-d, it spread very, very fast.”

In 2015, the project reached 919 cities and 84 countries, and this year he assumes there will be even more.

The goal of the Shabbos Project is to show unaffiliated Jews the beauty of a real Shabbos for 25 hours — no phones, no Internet, no driving, just a pure connection to their Creator. Educational material is distributed around the world, communities come together to create a joyful Shabbos atmosphere, and frum families reach out to their irreligious coworkers and neighbors, with amazing results.

How does Chief Rabbi Goldstein feel about the project’s amazing success? “What I love about it is how so many Jews, from all different continents, participate in it. Even though so many things are different about us, what’s the same is that we’re all Jews. Shabbos belongs to all of us. We may pronounce it differently, some people say ‘Shabbos,’ some say ‘Shabbat,’ but it’s the same thing. Whether we’re Ashkenazic or Sephardic, South American or European, it makes no difference, we’re part of the same Am Yisrael, with the same Father in Heaven. That’s the bond between us.”

 

What, though, was the impetus behind the Shabbos Project?

“It started with a conversation I had with an Israeli professor living in America, Dan Ariely,” explains Chief Rabbi Goldstein. “He asked me, ‘What’s the most important mitzvah?’ I told him we can’t grade Hashem’s mitzvos, all the mitzvos are important, but he pushed me, so finally I said it was Shabbos. That’s the foundation of all.”

In the course of the conversation, Chief Rabbi Goldstein asked Professor Ariely how to encourage people to keep Shabbos properly. Based on Ariely’s suggestion of having people keep Shabbos two weeks in a row, Rabbi Goldstein and his wife hit upon the plan of starting with just one Shabbos, which they did, in South Africa in 2013. The Shabbos was such a success that Rabbi Goldstein began receiving e-mails from around the world from other communities that wanted to join in.

“First we thought to plan different Shabbosim for different communities, but then we decided no, we needed to do one Shabbos of unity,” Rabbi Goldstein says. And so the international Shabbos Project was launched, and it’s been picking up speed ever since.

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