It’s a Shabbat Project like none other.

On November 6/7, the Shabbat Project is once again happening in more than 1,600 cities and 106 countries around the world. This year, though, it’s arriving in a world transformed by the coronavirus – and the project has had to reinvent itself as a result.

Since 2013, the annual event has brought together Jews of all ages and backgrounds and nationalities to keep one complete Shabbat together. This year, given the altered circumstances, the call of the project is to “Bring Shabbat Home”.

With the coronavirus continuing to upend daily life, partners and organisers around the world have pivoted from the big, city-wide spectacles that have characterized the project over the years, to online virtual pre-Shabbat events, and to a more intimate home-based experience over the Shabbat itself.

Shabbat Project founder, Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein, believes that in a volatile and uncertain world, “Bringing Shabbat Home” can restore some stability to our lives.

“We have lived through times of chaos and confusion. But our homes have been havens. And Shabbat can ensure they remain so – places of stability and security, kindness and connection, warmth and love. In a world turned upside down, Shabbat can keep us the right way up.”

Even amidst the challenges, Rabbi Goldstein says the response has exceeded expectations.

“Thousands of partners have again stepped forward, eager to bring the Shabbat experience to their communities. New, innovative events and initiatives have begun to take shape. New participants are gearing up to experience a full Shabbat for the first time in their lives.”

Because of the corona restrictions, city partners have had to adapt. Among the pre-Shabbat events scheduled are virtual challah bakes, online classes about Shabbar, cooking webcasts, global singathons and virtual synagogue tours.

One of the positive spin-offs of having online events is that geographical barriers have dissolved. Seed UK will broadcast an extraordinary 24-hour challah bake featuring 19 different live events from cities such as Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Sydney, Moscow, Toronto, and New York. In the wake of the Abraham Accords, an event hosted in Israel will include the Jewish communities of Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Dubai, Kuwait, and Oman.

And an Aish Project Inspire-run challah bake in Arizona will involve participants from four continents, with the first 50 participants receiving a beautiful Shabbat table centerpiece created by children from a local Jewish day school. The event will include pre-recorded Shabbat messages from kids of varying observance, and feature a mystery guest artist who has performed alongside Gloria Estefan, Julio Iglesias and James Brown, and at the White House.

In Argentina, a challah bake will unite Jewish communities in 32 cities across the country for the first time. And Long Island’s “Cook and Connect” event, featuring young cooking sensation and Chopped winner Rachel Goldzwal, will bring together teenagers from around the world to share traditional Shabbat dishes and cultural cuisines.

“This is front-row access to Jewish life all over the globe,” says Rabbi Goldstein. “You could attend a challah bake in Singapore, sit in on a Shabbat cooking class in Panama, enjoy Kabbalat Shabbat at the kotel, and end off with havdalah in Colombia. It’s an opportunity to experience different Jewish cultures and Shabbat traditions from the comfort of your home.”

Other event highlights this year include Mizrachi UK’s “Shabbaton at Home”, involving some 30,000 Jewish households and 75 shuls across the country, with thousands of Shabbat booklets distributed to enhance the Shabbat experience. The event will kick off with a pre-Shabbat launch on November 5, featuring Israeli singer Ishay Ribo as well as live addresses by UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Goldstein, and will conclude on Saturday night with a live Zoom havdalah followed by the “Great UK Shabbaton at Home Quiz.”

Then there’s “The Shabbat Show”, a three-hour online “Shabbat extravaganza”, also organised by Aish HaTorah’s Project Inspire, that will feature a variety of international guests, including Jewish hip-hop star L’chaim OG and celebrity chef and author Jamie Geller, as well as Eli Beer, founder of United Hatzalah of Israel, Steve Gar, an elite IDF counter-terrorist operative, Chaya Appel Fishman, founder of the Jewish Woman Entrepreneur (JWE) organisation, and Charlie Harary, a professor at Yeshiva University's Syms School of Business.

Elsewhere, a group of Israeli volunteers will be cooking and delivering all four Shabbat meals to Magen David Adom first responders in Raanana, Herzliya, and Kfar Saba. The Aish Denver website is offering Shabbat meals, Shabbat classes, and Shabbat “survival kits” on demand. And In the movement’s founding country, high school students from South Africa’s Jewish day schools are running their own challah bake, encouraging participants to bake four challas and donate two of them to the needy, while also raising money for local welfare organisations that have done such vital work during the coronavirus crisis.

Also in South Africa, the Shabbat Project’s head office in Johannesburg will distribute 7,500 bags filled with Shabbat-themed goodies to the Jewish community. In Boulogne, acclaimed Jewish historian Emmanuel Attyasse is leading a virtual tour of old Jewish France. And in Karnei Shomron, members of the religious-Zionist Bnei Akiva and largely secular Tzofim youth movements will be working together to deliver food parcels and flowers to residents of the town affected by COVID-19.

The latter is an offshoot of “Flowers for Shabbat”, a new Shabbat Project initiative that involves people across the world sending flowers and a personal message to a list of Israel-based recipient groups. Recipients include COVID-19 patients, doctors, frontline healthcare workers, volunteer first responders, lone soldiers, elderly people who are isolated during the pandemic, and others. At the time of writing, around 40,000 had been ordered. The flowers will be delivered on Friday, November 6, just in time for Shabbat.

Even amidst all the excitement and fanfare, however, this year’s Shabbat Project is centred on the Shabbat-at-home experience.

To help those new to the Shabbat experience “bring Shabbat home”, the Shabbat Project has created an array of educational resources, including a 7-step guide to keeping Shabbat, and a compendium of enriching and inspiring ideas to read and share around the Shabbat table.

“We have created study materials to help even beginners gain a profound understanding of Shabbat,” says Rabbi Goldstein. “Our goal is to make the Shabbat-at-home experience truly transformative and to give participants all the tools they need to immerse themselves in the magic and beauty of the day through the details and the philosophy and vision of Shabbat.”

It’s all geared towards what Rabbi Goldstein describes as “slowing down to the pace of life.”

“Switching off our devices, setting aside our work, leaving the car in the garage – these are all remarkably effective ways of slowing down the pace of life so that we can breathe and feel and connect. Ultimately, it is our total immersion in the experience that allows us to access all of the joys and gifts that Shabbat has to offer.”

The 2020 Shabbat Project arrives at a fraught time – in the middle of perhaps the most bitter US elections in history, in a world fractured along political and ideological lines, and reeling from a pandemic that has devastated lives and livelihoods. The South African chief rabbi, for one, believes that Shabbat can offer something positive and unifying – something centering in a world that is spinning.

“In these turbulent times, Shabbat can be a safe-haven for us, a respite from the 24-hour news cycle, and from all the negativity and divisions that are ravaging our society. Right now, we’re desperate for a better world – and we can build it: right here at home, with our families, within our four walls.

“May this Shabbat be a force for unity and healing. May we all find calm and comfort in Shabbat. And may this Shabbat truly be a Shabbat Shalom.”


Project Inspire invites you to join Jews from around the world Thusday night, November 5th for The Shabbat Show EXTRAVAGANZA- 3 hours of connection, unity and sharing Shabbat. The program will begin at 8:00 pm EST with a women's power hour, followed by the main program from 9:00-11:00 pm hosted by Charlie Harary and featuring an all star lineup of special guests.