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1,700 Jewish Women Make Challah In South Africa For

Global Shabbos Project


CAPE TOWN, South Africa (RNS) Flanked by guitars and drums, master of ceremonies Nicole Green
grabbed a microphone atop the outdoor stage and shouted, Are we ready to rock Cape Town?
The deafening roar of approval that followed wasnt for the band, which had already finished its set.
The crowd of more than 1,700 Jewish women was ready to knead dough.
Wednesday (Oct. 21) nights Great Big Challah Bakein Cape Town kicked off this years Shabbos
Project, a global movement encouraging secular and religious Jews to experience one full Sabbath in
accordance with Jewish law. That means no work, no phones and no cars from Friday evening until
Saturday night in accordance with the commandment to remember the Sabbath day, variously called
Shabbat in Hebrew and Shabbos or Shabes in Yiddish.

Religion News Service photo by Brian PellotMore than 1,700 Jewish women knead dough under a
tent during the Great Big Challah Bake on Wednesday (Oct. 21, 2015) in Cape Town, South Africa.
The event kicked off this years ShabbosProject, a global movement encouraging secular and
religious Jews to experience one full Shabbat in accordance with Jewish law.
The project, which organizers estimate reached 1 million people across more than 60 countries in its
first global iteration last October, started as a local initiative in 2013 under South Africas chief
rabbi, Warren Goldstein.
Goldstein attributes the movements enormous growth from 1,800 partner groups around the world

in 2014 to 5,000 this year to its grass-roots nature and social media appeal.
Whats given the project real space to move at such a rapid rate is that it belongs to the people. Its
not a hierarchical organization, he said on the phone from Israel, where he helped lay the
groundwork for community events before returning to Johannesburg on Wednesday.
This weeks global Shabbos Project features yoga events and picnics in San Diego, a 3,000-person
street dinner in downtown Los Angeles and major events in 560 cities around the world. On
Wednesday, women in Brooklyn set the Guinness world record for making thebiggest challah loaf.
In Johannesburg, 5,000 women registered for a challah bake Thursday featuring a live video link
with thousands of women in Tel Aviv.
The Shabbos Project has taken on a life of its own in South Africa since 2013.U.S. and U.K. phone
lines are routed to a bustling office in Johannesburg where 20 staff field questions from global
partners in eight languages.
A social media team has posted slick graphics and professional videos featuring celebrity
endorsements by singer Paula Abdul, former Sen. Joseph Lieberman, and actress Mayim Bialik. One
video features aspecial blessing with music recorded by rapper Matisyahu.
This ancient biblical institutionhas incredible modern relevance, Goldstein said.Thats what has made
the project sticky.

Religion News Service photo by Brian PellotMore than 1,700 Jewish women knead dough under a

tent during Wednesday (Oct. 21, 2015) night's Great Big Challah Bake in Cape Town.
Chani Hecht, who is married to a local rabbi and always keeps Shabbat, said part of that modern
relevance is a desire to momentarily disengage from modern technologies.
Its daunting for people who dont usually keep Shabbat to switch off on a weekly basis, but as a onceoff, just to have that experience of really spending quality time with family, friends and your
community, its priceless, she said.
South Africa is home to about 75,000 Jews, most of whom live in Johannesburg and are of Lithuanian
descent. Many consider themselves to be simultaneously Orthodox, traditional, Zionist and secular.
They eat kosher, but only at home. They join family for Shabbat meals but dont turn off their
cellphones. What might sound like paradoxes in Israel or the U.S. are just part of Jewish life here.
Rabbi Sean Cannon, who runs the Jewish Life and Learning program for Cape Towns Herzlia Jewish
community school system, estimates that 90 percent of his students are secular. Cannon said that
reality makes the projects success particularly impressive.
Whats changed is the psyche of the secular Jew in South Africa, he said. The Shabbos Project has
become part of their calendar, like Rosh Hashanah. Its like an extra day of Jewish connection and
Jewish Identity. Theres a different energy in the air; its palpable.
The warm aroma of rising yeast wafting over hundreds of chattering women is an integral part of
that connection.
Robyn Smooker initiated the first challah bake in 2013 and worked full time for the project last year.
A lot of people have different ideas about religion, but this project is about Jewish unity, she said.
Illana Melzer, who normally makes challah in a bread machine, came to the event to spend time with
her mother and daughter but takes issue with its broader premise.
If a challah bake is what counts as innovation with regard to women, were in serious trouble, she
said. Women have no role in Orthodox services, and theres a lot of resistance to any kind of
innovation.
No bread was actually baked Wednesday.Most women will wait for the yeast to rise and bake the
bread Friday.
The projects biggest competition for the attention of South African Jews this Saturday will be what
Cannon called the Southern Hemispheres Super Bowl.
A few hours before sunset, South Africa will play New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup semifinal.
Several women at the challah bake said they planned to watch the match live.
Were trying to encourage people to record the game and keep Shabbat, because its difficult to keep
the game and record Shabbat, Hecht quipped.
Susan Lazarus said theres a workaround, one others argued violates the spirit of Shabbat.
If someone whos not observant turns on the TV, then youre actually allowed to watch it, she said.

Cannon plans to watch a recorded version of the match Saturday night with fellow community
members.
Well be in this protected Shabbat bubble until it ends, and theyll turn the rugby on straight away so
no one will hear the score, he said.It will feel like were watching it live, even though its two hours
late.
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