On Friday, March 2, throngs of Jews in North America are asked to come together to celebrate Shabbat Across America, a continental observance of the ancient ritual held weekly, which traditionally begins each Friday at sundown until nightfall on Saturday.
Organizers hope to inevitably have Jews refocus on their heritage, as synagogue congregations—quite like other religious entities—have seen declines in attendance.
The idea of the campaign is to take something “that unifies all Jews” and have members “feel they’ve been touched spiritually,” said program director Larry Greenman, whose group, the National Jewish Outreach Program, is in its 16th year organizing the expansive event.
“This marks a time to pull away from emails and the pressures of daily life. Jews can this take time to celebrate with loved ones and recharge,” he said.
The tradition of Shabbat—which means "resting" in Hebrew—is recounted in the Book of Genesis and is ushered in with the lighting of candles, prayer services and, typically, with a festive meal enjoyed thereafter.
More than 500 colleges, sanctuaries and temples will take part in the medley of traditions across the United States and Canada, with 40,000-50,000 Jews expected to reacquaint themselves, or become familiar with Shabbat services, said Greenman.
“Some Jews have become estranged for whatever reasons, and others might not have had a positive Jewish experience growing up,” he explained.
For those Jews living remotely from a bricks-and-mortar center, Greenman said they can celebrate virtually by logging onto National Jewish Outreach Program's Shabbat Across America page and following a drop-down list of suggestions.
Locally, committee member Arlene Salkin of on New Albany Road in Cinnaminson, who's been deeply involved in the life of the temple, is busy readying a festive meal of salads, assorted roasted vegetables, pastas and dessert to be served after the family-oriented readings. Last year, 70 guests shared the ritual together.
“Always a well-attended evening ... and it is so positive for all Jews to come together,” said Salkin, who lives in Mount Laurel.
Rose Rose, operations administrator of Temple Sinai and a member for 17 years, says that overall attendance is dwindling at temples across the country. But, some young people, like her own children, are finding themselves more immersed in their faith, and Shabbat Across America can foster those bonds, as they celebrate Friday at universities.
“Both of my kids are now Orthodox Jews,” Rose said of her 24-year-old son and 25-year-old daughter. “In college, they began to identify more with their faith.”
Moorestown resident Shari Hyder said Shabbat Across America is a reflective time to connect with Jewish symbolism.
“There is such a warm feeling among the congregants at this gathering,” said Hyder. Thought unable to attend this year, Hyder has been involved with other Temple Sinai Shabbat Across America rites as a founding family member.
An evening filled with “warmth and meaning” is how Donna Weinstein, also of Moorestown, explained the night. Temple members for more than 33 years, she and her husband educated their children at the Hebrew school there.
People who assume the night is all about prayer have it wrong, member Alan Weinstein said.
“Religion plays a part,” Weinstein said, “but it is a night of human connection that makes it so worthwhile."