Over the years, so many people around the world have said to me that the Shabbos Project could only have been born in South Africa. Who can forget that groundbreaking Shabbos in October 2013 when nobody in the world had heard of the Shabbos Project? Nobody thought it possible for Jews, from all backgrounds, to unite across our differences and keep a full Shabbos. Nobody thought it possible until we, the South African Jewish community, showed everyone that it was. And so, what started right here, with us, in 2013, has since spread to more than 1,500 cities and 100 countries around the world. We showed the world how to “keep it together”. We inspired the world.
As the sun sets this Friday, in LA and London, Melbourne and Moscow, Buenos Aires and Berlin, Tel Aviv and Tokyo, Manila and Montreal, Addis Ababa and Ashkelon, Sao Paulo and Seattle, and everywhere in between – Jews from all walks of life, of all levels of observance, are coming together to keep one Shabbos. And it all started with us.
The Shabbos Project was born here because of so much that is unique and admired about our South African Jewish community throughout the world. Our unity and inclusivity – the mutual respect and bonds of friendship that cut across religious and other differences – is world renown. The Shabbos Project is all about Jewish unity, and we’ve shown the world that we don’t judge or label each other; that the only thing that matters is that we are Jewish.
Then there’s our fierce dedication to our Jewish heritage and Jewish values. The Shabbos Project was born here because as a community we have a deep respect for the Torah’s awesome, Divine wisdom. And it is the Jewish values that emerge from our Torah that have always held our community together; values that have instilled within us compassion and kindness, derech eretz, a commitment to community itself. Our close-knit families. Our tenacity and can-do spirit. Our creativity and boundless optimism. These are the reasons the South African Jewish community is revered around the world.
We all know the problems we face here, as well. We’ve weathered a turbulent two years with the pandemic, a global challenge. But we’re also dealing with a number of local problems – the aftershocks of the July riots, ongoing load-shedding, lack of government delivery – and perhaps the biggest challenge of all, increasing financial pressure on so many families and institutions within our community.
And while there remain great challenges, it is the very challenges we faced and overcome through the years that have brought out the remarkable resilience, strength and creativity of our precious community. We’ve been through so much, we’ve been written off many times – and yet here we are, still thriving. On the occasion of the ninth annual Shabbos Project let us step back for a moment and appreciate how special our community is. Our schools, our shuls, our welfare institutions, our security organisations, the abundant and vibrant Jewish life, the extraordinary Jewish infrastructure, the closeness and camaraderie, the disproportionate contribution we make to the greater society – makes us one the great Jewish communities in the world.
I for one – especially at this time of the Shabbos Project – see the magic and beauty and magnificence of our community. I’m not blind to our problems and shortcomings. Over these last 17 years as chief rabbi, I’ve seen us go through a lot, sometimes at our best and sometimes not. And yet, I am so proud of our community – inspired by the way we have rallied to meet our challenges together.
On this special Shabbos of the Shabbos Project, let’s celebrate as a community, and give grateful thanks to Hashem for all our gifts. Let’s celebrate our incredible achievements and the bountiful blessing of being part of this community. Let’s celebrate Shabbos together in grand style, remembering that the world looked to us for inspiration eight years ago – and that they’re looking at us still.