Federation Shabbat initiative gets grand response

Last year, on a Friday night, Margy Feldman was in her backyard when she heard her next-door neighbors singing “Shalom Aleichem.” 

“It was unbelievably moving. It felt like Israel,” said Feldman, vice president of development at Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services. 

It’s the kind of community-wide engagement with Shabbat that The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is hoping its latest initiative, 1000 Shabbat Celebrations, will accomplish. On Oct. 26, thousands of people in the greater Los Angeles area will celebrate Shabbat as part of this Federation project, which asks individuals, families, synagogues and organizations to host Shabbat dinners simultaneously.

The Federation is providing a box of Shabbat-related items to each registered participant, the contents of which include a one-of-a-kind challah cover, candles, a book of Shabbat prayers, recipes, inspirational writings and a tzedakah box.

“Basically what we’re saying to people is celebrate Shabbat everywhere you want, anywhere you want, any way you want, and we’re going to give you a little bit of a map if you want to use it,” Federation president and CEO Jay Sanderson said. 

Approximately 1,100 Shabbat dinners have been registered with the Federation as of Oct. 18, and approximately 25,000 people will be celebrating Shabbat as part of this organized effort, Sanderson said.

Federation artist-in-resident Will Deutsch designed the challah cover, which portrays stressors of the workweek, including freeway traffic and cell phones, separated from illustrations of Shabbat (e.g., a woman covering her eyes while reciting the blessing) to show the distinction between daily frustrations and the respite of the Sabbath.

Synagogues, organizations and even country clubs, including Brentwood Country Club and Hillcrest Country Club, are hosting larger celebrations. Between 40 to 70 people will turn out at social service agency Vista Del Mar’s Shabbat, Feldman said. Approximately 20 families will attend Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue’s event, Rabbi Judith HaLevy said.

“The one thing that unifies us, clearly, is Shabbat,” HaLevy said.

This will be the second consecutive year that the Federation has led such an initiative. In 2011, the Federation facilitated 100 Shabbats as a way to celebrate its centennial. More than 600 people participated, which motivated the Federation to do it again — and make it bigger, Sanderson said.

An upcoming Federation program, also revolving around Shabbat, brings a celebrity to the table. On Nov. 9, actor-comedian Bob Saget will have Shabbat dinner with the winners of a current Federation contest. Individuals who donate to the Federation’s latest fundraising drive will be entered for a chance to join the former “Full House” star. 

Ultimately, both initiatives attest to the power of Shabbat to bring people together, whether you’re Reform, Conservative or Orthodox.

“No matter what our form or level of Shabbat observance, we can all find a place to daven and take a breath and do it together with our families and our communities,” HaLevy said.