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Op-eds

Stepping off the treadmill for Shabbos

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In the run-up to the Shabbos Project last week, I heard numerous people say it was passé and had had its time. Some even said the chief rabbi, who created the Shabbos Project seven years ago, needs to come up with a new innovation.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Nov 21, 2019

However, the fact is that internationally, this project keeps growing. It has now reached and enthused Jewish people in 1 685 cities and 106 countries around the world. In the United States alone, there are 771 cities participating in this so-called passé project.

Just this year, 210 new cities and eight new countries got involved. These include Rwanda, Papua New Guinea, Antigua and Barbuda, the United Arab Emirates, Latvia, Afghanistan, Luxembourg, and Oman.

That being said, it doesn’t mean that those of us in South Africa who have been involved in the project since its inception are going to keep it going. So, in the run-up to last weekend, I wondered what would happen here.

I’m still an advocate of the Shabbos Project because I believe in family – in both the personal and extended communal form.

And after last weekend, I hope this project keeps going indefinitely.

My reasons are simple.

We all live independent lives and so often, families hardly see each other from week to week. Some of us keep Shabbos, and some don’t. Some of us are strictly kosher, and some aren’t. Some of us get all our chores done on Shabbos, others take time out for family. Some spend Shabbos catching up on work, others catch up on Netflix series or gaming during that time. Some of us attend shul every Friday night and Saturday morning, whether we drive there or not. Others make a point of going either on Saturday morning or Friday night. The variation in our lives is extensive.

However, once a year on the Shabbos Project, we make an effort to keep Shabbos as it is meant to be. We make an effort to include others in our experience. We get involved with the community and bond with our families. We walk instead of drive. We talk to each other instead of texting or WhatsApping one another.

Those of us who regularly keep Shabbos help those of us who don’t. We give insight into this special time that’s so integral to being Jewish.

Shabbos is bonding time, family time, and down time, but many people don’t observe it for all sorts of reasons. But when we do, it really is a special experience.

At shul on Saturday morning, I overheard a conversation between two teenage boys. The one was obviously observant, and the other wasn’t. For ease, I will call the observant one E and the secular one A.

E told A how he has really enjoyed spending time with him over Shabbos and getting to know him better. “I was worried you would find Shabbos boring because you are always doing other things on Saturdays,” said E. A’s response was: “I also thought I would be, but knowing that I can’t play computer games, have access to my phone or drive anywhere has been like a holiday. You and your family are lucky to have this time because you seem to talk to each other. You talk while you walk, you talk while you eat. It’s cool, you know what I mean?”

E said: “I often wish I was like you and was able to do other stuff on weekends. My family is very strict. I sometimes find it frustrating.”

They both agreed that they enjoyed just being able to chill and open up to each other, knowing that once Shabbos was over, it was business as usual.

Trying not so successfully to mind my own business, it was clear to me that the Shabbos Project was about those two boys communicating and bonding. It was less about what event or function was happening where, who was giving what shiur, and who had the best celebrity talk.

For me, the Shabbos Project is about bonding and finding the peace in Shabbos and our families and communities. It’s about seeing past our differences and communing in our sameness. It’s about not looking down on one another for our choices, but rather revelling in our communal links, no matter how disparate and frayed they are.

All those countries around the world that have adopted and love the Shabbos Project – or the Shabbat Project, as it is called outside of South Africa – have realised this to be true.

I believe that those people who criticise the Shabbos Project for being passé, have missed the point. It’s not about innovation or being the flavour of the month, it is about finding joy and bonding in Shabbos at least once a year.

Shabbos isn’t about a competition, or which soundbite captures your imagination first. That’s the rest of the week. That’s life in general.

Shabbos and the Shabbos Project is about getting off of that treadmill, and finding peace in the simple yet beautiful things in our lives.

It’s about finding each other, communicating, and bonding with family and friends. It’s about taking a break from the rat race, and enjoying the peace that Shabbos gives us.

So, while I respect all your opinion about the Shabbos Project, I for one am going to continue to advocate for it because it holds great meaning for me.

Shabbat Shalom!

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