The South African chief rabbi Warren Goldstein started a revolution last year. He encouraged, cajoled and persuaded his Sth African community to keep just one Shabbos. So Parshat Noah last year the entire South African Jewish community got behind him and from Friday evening sundown through to Saturday evening at three stars Shabbos was in the air electrifying the atmosphere.
Huge open challah bakes were efficiently carried out from the Thursday night, although I don’t know where they got all the ovens to accommodate all the bakers. On you tube the whole thing looks like one big street party. Guest speakers were arranged for synagogues who combined events, organised public meditation, prayer and spiritual song sessions. Most of all there was a big Shabbos dinner all catered for with long tables like at a medieval castle setting, stretching for 100’s of meters along the street scape all set with shabbos finery; wine for Kiddush and whiskey for the chaser… The logistics were a nightmare not to mention the cost but everyone bought into the idea, everyone shared and lent a hand and everyone of South Africa Jewry kept just One Shabbos.
Keeping Shabbos if you are not used to it is weird. Not from my perspective, I love it. I love the time out, the calmness, serenity and the shule prayers. I love the food and song and my table sermons with the family and especially the shabbos afternoon schlof. But if you had to explain it to a gentile, then yes it is weird. No work is carried out from sundown to sundown.
That means no mobile phones, no emails, no face book, no twitter, no movies, no instagram, no TV, no texts. It means not carrying your house, car keys or wallet in your pocket. Nor pushing a stroller, nor turning the stove on and off; you can’t even cheat by using the microwave. It means not even going for a sweaty jog, nor watching the footy on TV, because that is not in keeping with the spirit of Shabbos. Although, I have a leniency for watching the ashes on the big screen in a public bar because you are unable to use the remote control.
My precedence comes from the fact that sleeping on Shabbos is a mitzvah and well watching the ashes on Shabbos afternoon whilst maybe not sleeping but you certainly levitate and trancesd into the sphere and bliss of rest and complete relaxation, only to be woken by the irregular sound of wickets falling. I have heard other rabbis with other opinions prohibiting watching the ashes on the big screen; I guess you can pick and choose rabbinical decisions. Keeping shabbos means no shopping at Westfield, nor beach bbq’s or walks in a National park. On the flip side it means gefilte fish, chollent, chopped herring with kichel, chicken soup with kreplach, baked salmon with glazed pineapple, hummus and yumis olive dip, apricot chicken, Jerusalem kugel and Mum’s chocolate cake. It means Friday evening l’chaim with the Rabbi and vodka at Kiddush the following morning. It means following the ancient bible stories (parsha) each week deriving a message and being kept awake and alert by the chanting of the Torah reader which in our case is Bernie Tuch; but you can fall asleep a little while later during the rabbi’s sermon. Shabbos means being spiritually, resolutely supported and strengthened to face the challenges of the upcoming week. It means a panacea of faith, emotional well being and sense of purposefulness.
I had to explain this whole shabbos thing to our elected member of parliament for Coogee, Bruce Notley Smith when discussing the proposed eruv (I will get into that some other time). I must admit he had his mind around the whole thing and understood the day of rest concept. Truthfully however in the real world they think you are stark raving mad, but I figure if God created the world in six days then surely we should be able to manage our affairs in six days emails iphones and all.
But when I had to explain this whole shabbos thing to Mendel’s Bondi United football team, well that was another story. Mendel’s Rugby U17 team has made it to this year’s grand final. League is played as a Sunday competition but would you believe it, South’s Juniors who run the under 17 completion scheduled Mendel’s grand final at Redfern Oval on Saturday afternoon 1.50pm.
The conversation went like this you mean you can’t talk on a phone, switch on the light, you mean you are not going to drive in a car, say that again, you can’t travel in a car???
What about if we switch the radio off? Well maybe … but no.
Why can’t Mendel walk to Redfern? He can; but he is not allowed to tear up the turf, maybe he won’t tear up the turf?? But he may kick the ball out of the park and that is carrying; oh forget it…..
We just love Mendel and want him to play with us on the grand final. But his team was amazing!! the management and coaching staff wrote a special letter of appeal to request a change in the scheduleing; due to logistics south juniors were unable to accommodate. The parents were absolutely remarkable and empathetic, especially the Bondi Wags (mothers) and allow me to quote a text I received (not on shabbos) my heart goes out to you Mendel, your hard work and passion for the game each week has very much helped us get into the grand final and it breaks my heart………’
I addressed the entire team and Management on behalf of Mendel explaining the shabbos thing (they though I was from Mars) but mostly highlighting their friendship, incredible loyalty and genuine mateship. I encouraged the team to always be accepting of other cultures. I in turn encouraged all the parents to keep a shabbos (day of rest) for themselves, I used words like spending quality time with the family together on a Friday night. The whole team pledged to win for Mendel and Mendel will be part of the official (hopefully winning) grand final Bondi United U17 2014 team.
The South African Shabbos project is coming this year to over 170 cities in the world; spanning every community, culture and hamlet. Coogee Synagogue is on board and whilst I am not advocating that you should have to keep every nuance of the Shabbos we are certainly going to try, and I am here to help.
The CEO of the Sydney Shabbat project is Rabbi Benjy Levi of Moriah College. Executive Coordinator for the South East Community incorporating Clovelly, Coogee, Maroubra, Kensington, Pagewood all the way to Botany is Shirley Snoyman. The Coogee Synagogue coordinator is Billie Glass. We will keep you informed updated and stay tuned
l’chaim and see you in shule