Op-Ed: Shabbat UK has made history
In an Op-Ed for the Jewish Chronicle, Chief Rabbi Mirvis reflects on the success of the inaugural Shabbat UK and delights in the high levels of engagement seen across UK communities.
‘Shabbat UK has made history’
“We set our expectations high — and British Jewry exceeded them.
We are still under the spell of a mesmerising and historic weekend.
Earlier this year, we called on individuals and families to celebrate a Shabbat like no other. We asked communities to do something extraordinary: to give Jews around the country, whatever their level of observance, the opportunity to experience Shabbat’s uplifting and transformative qualities.
Thank God, this is exactly what happened, and so much more.
Shabbat UK was inspired by the successful Shabbos Project organised by South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein last year. I wanted Jews in the UK to appreciate Shabbat’s key benefits: family bonding time; connection with community and tradition; a protected space staked out in our week for peace, friendship and sharing; personal growth, learning and development; a digital detox day; a safety valve for the pressures of the working world and an opportunity for us to control our environment and not be slaves to it.
‘We asked communities to do something extraordinary: to give Jews around the country the opportunity to experience Shabbat’s uplifting and transformative qualities.’
In my installation address, I called for our houses of prayer to be transformed into powerhouses of religious, educational, social and cultural excellence. In this spirit, Shabbat UK has empowered numerous communities to raise the bar. It has given us a glimpse of and an appetite for just what can be achieved throughout the entire year.
I have been humbled and inspired by the power of British Jewry to embrace and participate in an initiative such as this. It speaks volumes about the untapped potential that I firmly believe is there and that I see on my visits to communities, campuses and communal organisations right across the UK.
My message to ‘do one more thing’, something extra or different, for one Shabbat, encouraged thousands to do much more. People surprised themselves as well as their families and friends. They revelled in extending hospitality to one another, neighbours and acquaintances. They flocked to the various events and programmes and were welcomed with smiling faces, music, delicious food and a wonderful celebration of togetherness.
‘My message to ‘do one more thing’, something extra or different, for one Shabbat, encouraged thousands to do much more’
They experienced the exciting, magical and joyful opportunities that Shabbat provides. Young and old came forward and enthusiastically engaged with the full traditional Shabbat experience, many for the first time in their lives.
Reports from communities, synagogues, schools and other organisations indicate that over 100,000 people engaged with Shabbat on a scale that has never been previously seen in the UK. This remarkable and enthusiastic buy-in was simply sensational. Throughout the length and breadth of the UK we heard the same story: thousands of challah bakers, events sold out, long waiting lists, record numbers of attendees, glorious singing, community centres and synagogues thronging with people, spectacular havdalah ceremonies and many thousands of candles lit and children blessed.
The success of Shabbat UK was facilitated by an unprecedented coalition of organisations. The steering group included representatives of synagogues, outreach organisations, schools, student organisations, synagogue bodies and youth movements.
A positive wave of spiritual energy has swept through the entire community. We received a much-needed boost after the challenges and pressures of a difficult summer. Shabbat UK has generated extraordinary pride in Jewish values, joy in the celebration of Jewish faith and recognition of the relevance of Jewish tradition in our sophisticated, modern world.
The real value of Shabbat UK will find its true expression through effective follow-up.
‘We received a much-needed boost after the challenges and pressures of a difficult summer’
Inspired by the unprecedented mass celebration, some were sad to see it end and deliberated on how we can make it a bigger and better event next year. My message, however, is that Shabbat takes place every week. Every single day presents opportunities for enriched Jewish living.
Having appreciated the joy and sense of fulfilment that we as individuals can achieve, and the breath-taking programming that communities can successfully arrange, let us now intensify our year-round Jewish experience. This will be the true success and lasting legacy of Shabbat UK.”