WEST ORANGE, NJ — West Orange’s Jewish community will unite with millions of Jews from more than 400 cities and 60 countries for the fourth annual Shabbat Project, a worldwide celebration of Judaism’s weekly holy day, from Nov. 10 through 12.
This year’s celebration features three days of activities — not just the Saturday Shabbat service, or Shabbos — meant to bring together the township’s synagogues in solidarity with each other and Jewish communities across the globe. Committee Co-Chairman Larry Rein said that between 300 and 350 people are expected to participate in West Orange.
And Rein said that is a good thing because the more people experience the joy of a Shabbat service, the more they will want to join a synagogue if they do not already belong to one.
“This gives us an opportunity around the world to celebrate and inspire ourselves to be doing Shabbos together,” Rein told the West Orange Chronicle in a Nov. 4 phone interview. “It really gives us an opportunity once a year to take a moment to reflect and say how great it is to spend Shabbos together around the world for people both affiliated or unaffiliated.”
The Shabbat Project in West Orange actually started with a Kiddush cup-making event on Nov. 3, that Rein said attracted 30 to 40 children. Yet the main programming starts on Nov. 10, with a mother-daughter challah baking at the Shabbat House. That is followed by a Nov. 11 Shabbat service at Ohr Torah, with dinner later served at B’nai Shalom. There is another service on Nov. 12 at Congregation AABJ&D, after which participants are invited to attend lunch at host family homes. It all culminates that evening with a family Havdalah ceremony and concert, also at AABJ&D, featuring Rabbi Chaim Block of the popular singing group Shalsheles.
Rein said he enjoys the entire celebration but has two favorite events. The first is the Friday service, which he described as a “very spiritual time” and a “really wonderful experience” since it gives everyone the chance to sing and simply spend time together. The second is the Havdalah service, a “moving” ceremony in which families light candles in unity to close out Shabbat.
Overall, Rein said he loves seeing members of all the different West Orange synagogues come together, something not seen in many other communities. And that solidarity, established through the Shabbat Project and other programs, has had a positive impact on the town’s Jewish population year-round, he said.
“We all have become friends,” Rein said. “We actually are able to build a stronger community because we tend to show up at each other’s events and parties.”
The Shabbat Project in particular has a strong effect on non-synagogue members as well, according to Rein. He said every year eight to 10 people join a synagogue after the event has ended.
Project volunteer Davidah Moradi also sees an increase in the number of people helping out with the program annually. Moradi said that West Orange’s first celebration had only seven or eight volunteers, but this year’s has 15 to 25.
It is easy for her to understand why so many people would want to become more deeply involved with the Shabbat Project after participating in it. Moradi said watching such a large group of people come to together as one is a powerful experience. More than that, she said, it impacts one’s perspective on religion and life.
“It changes you and makes you want to become better,” Moradi told the Chronicle in a Nov. 7 phone interview. “It makes you think about what you have and (teaches you) not to take for granted what you’ve been given.”
Such a life-changing experience takes a lot of effort to organize, though. Moradi said she has spent countless hours working on a booklet of songs, a children’s coloring book and a packet of follow-up information for anyone who wants to become more involved with the Jewish community, among other duties. And once this year’s event ends, she said the volunteers will begin planning for next year.
Yet it is all worthwhile for Moradi, who said she finds it highly gratifying to contribute to the Shabbat Project. Her only wish is that the people who participate this year are affected by it as much as she has been.
“Hopefully, it’ll light something up inside of them to want to learn more about Judaism, about Shabbat, about the high holidays and maybe grow from that,” Moradi said. “Everyone has a light inside of them. We just have to turn it on and we just have to inspire them a little bit by doing something that makes them happy and turns them on in the right direction.”
For more information about the Shabbat Project in West Orange, visit www.shabbatwo.com.