February 18, 2020

The Unity Star of Kochav Ya’ir

Shikma Landau-Keysar

Lately, Shikma Landau-Keysar can’t even grab a few things at the grocery store without it taking her an hour. Everywhere she goes in her central Israeli town of Kochav Ya’ir, people stop her to talk about the Shabbat Project block parties happening on Oct. 27. The town is buzzing with excitement, and Landau-Keysar is the shining star leading the way.

As part of the global Shabbat Project, happening this weekend in more than 1,500 cities worldwide, Landau-Keysar and her team of 50 volunteers are doing a relatively radical experiment in today’s society: They’re asking people to “Stop Doing and Start Being.” They’re telling their peers to put down their smartphones, turn off their TVs, and go downstairs and outside. They’re challenging the families in their town to break free of their self-imposed “bubbles” and go out into the streets, literally, to meet their neighbors, in the name of Jewish unity.  

The plan is so simple and casual, it seems it could work only in Israel. A block captain puts invites in everyone’s mailboxes, telling them to come to the street at 11 a.m. on Oct. 27 and bring food items to share. The block leader will lead the group in making a “l’chaim” and in talking about the weekly Torah portion, Vayeira, which, fittingly, tells of Abraham’s legendary hospitality. 

Landau-Keysar and her team thought really hard about what would be the right way to bring everyone together. “Eleven a.m. is when those who go to synagogue will be getting out, and those of us who don’t and prefer to sleep in on our day of rest, will be ready to get up and out of the house,” she said.

They also thought a lot about how to make the food aspect of the event friendly to everyone. “Look, they can bring something that means Shabbat to them: jachnun (a Yemenite dish) or kugel (an Ashkenazi dish). Or, they can buy something at the store that is kosher and labeled. This way, there will be something for everyone.”

Everywhere she goes in her central Israeli town of Kochav Ya’ir, people stop her to talk about the Shabbat Project block parties happening on Oct. 27. 

Landau-Keysar, a self-described secular mother of three originally from the Jordan Valley region, is a practicing psychotherapist and school guidance counselor. She works part time at a magnet school in Ariel, while simultaneously building her private clinical practice, which focuses mostly on youth therapy. Four years ago, she and her family “adopted” a 14-year-old girl from the Ukraine as part of the organization Na’aleh, which helps young people who make aliyah alone have familial support systems and easier societal integration. Last summer, she went to India to do advanced training in “express meditation” as a tool for her clinical and school work. She writes a popular blog on an Israeli women’s site. She leads seminars in her area on advanced energy work and mindfulness practices.

So, how does this busy woman have more room on her crowded plate to take on the enormity of initiating and overseeing Shabbat block parties in her town? “Something told me to just go for it, and it will work out,” Landau-Keysar replied when asked why she said “yes” when she got the call from her friend from Mothers With Meaning. As a member of this grass-roots nationwide community of mothers, Landau-Keysar has been nurtured to be a social change leader in her community, and Israeli society as a whole. As part of this group, Landau-Keysar is committed to using her Jewish and Israeli values to bridge some of the gaps in Israeli society, such as the divides between religious and secular.

“I believe when you give, you get it back a thousand fold,” Landau-Keysar said.

Clearly, Mothers With Meaning found the right woman for the job.