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Shabbos Project Comes to YU

The Shabbos Project, an international grassroots movement started in South Africa and designed to unite world Jewry to observe one full Shabbat together, has been brought to Yeshiva University. This movement, founded by Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, began last year when seventy-five percent of South Africa’s seventy-five thousand Jews observed Shabbat according to Halacha. This year, on October 24-35 the Shabbos Project movement went global with participating communities worldwide.

One may wonder why the Shabbos Project was brought to Yeshiva University, a place that is overwhelmingly Shabbos observant. Daniella Lesser, one of the students responsible for bringing the project to YU explained as follows. This summer, the Jewish people were united in their hopes and prayers to bring back Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali, three kidnapped Israeli teenagers (who were unfortunately discovered to be murdered), and for the safe return of our troops. “There was a strong desire to hold on to this feeling of unity and connectedness. Since Jews from all over the world joined together for this specific Shabbos, the student body thought that this project was something that all of our students needed to be a part of. Their goal of partnering up with “The Shabbos Project” was to create an inspiring Shabbos at both the Beren and Wilf Campuses.” Jacob Bernstein, the President of SOY, was also a key figure in bringing the project to YU. He explained that the Shabbos Project is not only for people who are Shabbos-observant, but also for people are who want to be part of the Jewish global experience of keeping Shabbos together.

Part of the challenge of bringing the Shabbos Project to YU was integrating a family-like experience in a dorm room environment. It was, therefore, turned into a week-long project to give students more time to bond with each other and the Jewish community at large. The specific days that the project was chosen to be similarly had meaning in itself. Bernstein explained that since one is theoretically permitted to say Havdalah until Tuesday night, the programming lasted from Wednesday until Tuesday night, since it is those days when one starts preparing for and feels the departure of Shabbos. Furthermore, Rabbi Glasser of the Center for the Jewish Future, explained that the whole idea of a project implies more than just one initiative but is rather a continuous effort. It is that idea that also encouraged those in charge of the project to extend the programming until after Shabbos.

Both Stern and Yeshiva College had programming to unite YU students as well as programs to reach out to the Jewish community as a whole. Even before the project began, YU published a YouTube video promoting the Shabbos Project, featuring prominent members of the YU faculty including President Joel, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, and Rabbi Yaakov Glaser with the purpose of reaching out to the broader Jewish community to participate in the project.

The programming began on the Beren Campus on Monday, October 20, with a TSLS (Torah Scholarship Lecture Series) event on the topic of “How Shabbat Builds a Sense of Community”. This was followed On October 21, by a T3 (T-Cubed) learning event conducted by Rabbi Daniel Wolff in which Stern College and Samuel H. Wang Yeshiva University High School for Girls (Central) students learned together.

On Wednesday, October 22 in an event lead by Ari Miller, a student from YU, the students of the Wilf campus went to the JCC in Washington Heights and coordinated with Tomchei Shabbos, a Jewish charity which focuses on the Shabbat, to pack meals for needy families in the greater New York area. On Wednesday night, shuls around the world hosted challah-baking events and the Challah for Hunger club at YU did likewise. Students from the both the Wilf and Beren campuses baked challah and gave a five dollar donation to keep what they baked, the proceeds of which went to Mazon and Yad Eliezer, two charities that combat hunger and poverty around the world. The students then made shabbos cards for elderly people, which were handed out by student organization Music Vs. later in the week.

On Thursday, October 23, Yeshiva College students learned together with high school students from MTA, TABC, and JEC for chaburah-style learning.  They prepared for a shiur given by Rabbi Mordechai Willig about the laws of Shabbos with regards to security devices. Afterwards, there was a session with Rabbi Yitzchok Cohen. The students were then invited to join a mishmar event. Infusing a pre-Shabbos ruach spirit into the Yeshiva, the night ended off with delicious cholent, singing, and dancing led by senior Moshe Abrams playing the guitar.

On Friday October 24, Music Vs. sent students to cheer up elderly people in their private apartments, some of whom are Holocaust survivors. They handed out cards that were made by students in the Challah Challenge and packages that were made by the Chesed Club. Additionally, they sang and danced, making for a heartwarming experience. Senior Mark Weingarten, the head of Music Vs., explained, “This event was an incredible opportunity to continue our mission to brighten up the lives of others, and to engage a broader segment of the student body. We hope that the new faces who were an amazing force behind this event's success will become regular members of Music Vs, or will be inspired by their experiences to contribute to those in need in other meaningful capacities.”

On the Shabbos of October 25, the official day of the Shabbos Project, SOY hosted an in-Shabbos. The theme of the Shabbos was “Recharge your Batteries”. Guests included Rabbi Hershel Schachter and Rabbi Yehuda Willig. Their shiurim expounded on the theme of utilizing Shabbos as an opportunity to give strength for the week and for months ahead.

The Shabbos Project activities even stretched beyond Shabbos. On Sunday, October 26, there was an “Inyanei Shabbos” Leil Iyun - night of learning - featuring Rabbi Yaakov Neuberger and Rabbi David Fohrman about various topics related to Shabbos. The following day, the Shabbos Enhancement Committee under SOY led an open forum for students to share their ideas of how to build upon the excitement of the Shabbos project by making Shabbatot on campus more interesting and exciting. For about an hour, many of those topics were discussed such as the quality of the food served on shabbos, speakers to invite, and many more general types of programming.

Finally, as advertised in Bernstein’s numerous emails, YU students were privileged to hear Senator Joseph Lieberman, the Joseph Lieberman Chair in Public Policy and Public Service, on Tuesday. Senator Lieberman delivered a lecture that focused on his Sabbath observance during his tenure in public office. He recalled that in 1988, when he ran for the US Senate, the nominating convention had always been run on Saturdays. Lieberman recorded an acceptance speech which was recorded on a large screen, which was pictured all over the Connecticut papers. Though he was running against a popular incumbent senator, a week before the election he got a call from a Democratic state senator who told him he was going to be elected. When Lieberman asked him how he knew, the state senator responded that he spoke to voters who admired Lieberman for taking his religion seriously by observing the Sabbath and “putting his faith ahead of politics.”

With all this programming complete, it is easy to say that the Shabbos Project at YU was a rousing success.