For the Flatbush community, this past Shabbos was nothing like they’ve ever experienced before. In over 90 shuls across the area, thousands of participants were welcomed by their hosts and introduced to the beauty and splendor of Shabbos.
The breadth and scope of the program was outstanding. So many events and activities happened in dozens of venues all over the neighborhood. Adding to the special atmosphere was the picture perfect weather, a gift from Hashem.
Looking back at the overwhelming hatzlacha of the Shabbos Project, the staff of Project Inspire is truly humbled. “This Shabbos brought about an incredible Kiddush Shem Shomayim,” says Rabbi Chaim Sampson, Director of Project Inspire. “The effort and care that the entire community put into inviting and hosting their less affiliated friends and acquaintances was truly inspiring.”
But that’s not all. “I heard personally from several Rabbonim,” Rabbi Sampson adds, “that this Shabbos not only touched the lives of thousands of unaffiliated Yidden but was greatly mechazek their own kehilos and the entire Flatbush community. Klal Yisroel is guf echod — when we reach out to each other we strengthen ourselves. I thank the Ribono Shel Olam for giving us this special opportunity for achieving achdus in such a touching and positive way.”
Preparing Our Children For the Shabbos Project
“I was a unique part of the puzzle,” explains Rabbi Maimon Elbaz of Torah Shows. “Here’s what happened. When I heard about all the excitement surrounding the upcoming Shabbos Project I reached out to Project Inspire and told them I have a unique show that discusses the laws of Shabbos and makes people appreciate Shabbos.”
The program, which is called “Lamed Tes Melochos Dramatized” has been displayed in cities all around the world. It begins with a heartwarming segment about briyas ha’olam, and continues with halochos of Shabbos. Over the past few weeks, Rabbi Elbaz brought the performance to eighteen schools across the Flatbush area in order to generate excitement among the community’s children about the Shabbos Project.
Khal Nachlas Yehoshua Manishtritz
While major Kabolas Shabbos events are taking place at other venues, the Manishtritz Beis Medrash is hosting its own . Led by Izzy Hersh, the shul members join him in singing niggunim. While dusk settles outdoors on a peaceful and promising Shabbos evening, this kehilla joins together in sublime harmony. The Shabbos queens is being welcomed in grand style.
Beis Medrash Torah U’tefillah, Rabbi Shimon Alster
A group of guests, members of the Chevra from Philadelphia, participated in events at Rabbi Alster’s shul. “They brought in people of various backgrounds and levels of observance,” says R’Yitzchok Fuchs. “All who came committed to keeping Shabbos this week.”
R’Binyamin Berger spoke on Friday night before kabolas Shabbos, and R’Yossi Lamet davened with his sons as a harmonious backup choir followed by a beautiful rekida.
On Shabbos morning the Rov spoke to the kehilla as well as the guests. This was followed by a communal Shabbos seudah and shalosh seudos during which Rabbi Chaim Rosenfeld addressed the guests.
Noah, an attorney from Philadelphia, had never kept Shabbos before in her life. By the time she made it to havdalla, she was literally in tears. “I never experienced anything like this in my entire life,” she said to her hosts.
Agudas Yisroel Bais Binyomin, Rabbi Moshe Tuvia Lieff
On Friday night, over one thousand people gather at the Agudath Israel to join Kabolas Shabbos led by Yehuda Green. After the seudah, an over capacity crowd came again to hear the inspirational words of Charlie Harary and to participate in an Oneg Shabbos. Mr. Harary described the comical reaction of a corporate colleague to his first authentic Shabbos experience.
Afterwards, the large crowd was addressed by Isaac Gross, who spearheaded this Shabbos experience. He talks about Rabbi Noach Weinberg, Z’l, the inspiration behind all things kiruv, who never failed to ask everyone, “What are you doing for the Jewish people?”
Guests mingle comfortably with those who have lived here forever. The atmosphere is relaxed, upbeat and enjoyable. Perfect strangers begin to chat, older people share a joke with college students, yarmulkas and shirts of all colors and stripes are proudly worn. The warmth and friendship is palpable this evening.
An outstanding Oneg Shabbos awaits the guests in the shul’s Grand Ballroom after the keynote session. Rabbi Zecharya Wallerstein addressed the Oneg.
In the morning, Rabbi Chaim Sampson of Project Inspire invited all guests to attend a lecture on the topic of “How to get your Prayers answered” on the lower level. Organizers weren’t sure if anyone will show up, but in the end the room was crowded beyond belief and chairs are being brought in from other areas to accommodate the overflow crowd. Rabbi Sampson discusses the power of prayer and a lively question and answer session develops soon afterwards. “How do I prepare for prayer?” “Can I pray in another language?” and so on. Upstairs, Shloime Dachs lead the kehilla with song-filled tefillah.
Rabbi Daniel Mechanic captivated the olam at an early afternoon address, explaining what makes Judaism so special. He points out the obvious – that the Torah was given to an entire nation of three million people who handed it down from generation to generation. Several hundred people are in the room, a combination of guests and hosts and shul members. This weekend, everyone is seeking inspiration.
What’s it like to be a successful business person and an Orthodox Jew? What happens when you’re invited to dinner by the NFL Commissioner or the King of Morocco or the President of a major US bank but you only eat kosher? How do you deal with subtle anti-Semitism from those you work with? Does the yarmulka on your head affect your business relationships? What about leaving early for Shabbos? And finally, as an Orthodox Jew, how do you stand up for honesty and integrity while you are ‘out there’ in the big world?
A panel of experts including Shlomo Werdiger, Malcolm Hoenlein, and Isaac Gross spoke about their experiences over the years. Their stories varied, but the general theme remained the same. If you do the right thing and are true to your ideals, the world will ultimately admire you and respect you.
Prospect Park Yeshiva Girls School
On Friday night, the girls experienced a beautiful Oneg in Mercaz Center with a Shabbos challenge panel by students and a kumzitz. On Shabbos day, Mrs. Rivky Herman spoke beautifully about her challenge in finding her way to Yiddishkeit from public school. The girls played games with their hosts and friends and there was a Shabbos inspired round robin. Girls received tickets for a raffle and winners got scarves or bangles or gift cards.
Mrs. Press captivated the young ladies with her masterful storytelling. And on Motzei Shabbos the hostesses took their guests to the Havdalla concert. Says one group leader, “Quite frankly, introducing the eleven year old girls to Yehuda Green and Carlebach music was quite an experience!”
The biggest highlight for those who organized the event was hearing hw many girls were maintaining relationships with their guests. “So many Ahi Ezer girls approached their teachers and hosts to thank them,” says Basya Fogel, “and to tell them how inspiring it was to spend Shabbos with so many girls, all keeping it together!”
Yeshivas Ohr Yitzchok, Rabbi Aaron Groner
According to Rabbi Groner, Kabolas Shabbos at the shul this week was “electrifying.” One hundred and fifty people joined the davening, and a lavish seudah was prepared for 150 bochurim. “What our Yeshiva did,” explains Rabbi Groner, “is join in the energy of the Shabbos Project by focusing on what we always do and reaching out more and more.” Many of the young men brought along their friends all of whom were connecting with the Shabbos experience.
Rabbi Fishel Schechter addressed the guests during Kabolas Shabbos and then everyone joined in an elegantly catered Friday night seudah at the Chaim Berlin Yeshiva Ktana. An Oneg Shabbos at the Yeshiva lasted late into the night with zemiros, inspiring speakers, achdus, and dancing. Rabbi Yaakov Salomon spoke during Shalosh Seudos and a very special chosson also joined together with his guests.
The young people who participated were grateful for this opportunity. “For some,” said Rabbi Groner, “it was the first real Shabbos they experienced in a very long time. The Yeshiva now hopes to capitalize on the great energy of this special Shabbos to continue in our mission.”
Roots, T-Fusion Restaurant
In Marine Park, the Roots organization arranged a Friday night seudah for forty at the T-Fusion restaurant. Roots is dedicated to promoting Jewish identity by engaging Jews in meaningful living and learning experiences. Shabbos guests at the event ranged in age from eleven to 55 years of age.
A massive community Oneg Shabbos was held afterwards in an adjoining tent, attended by 250 people. Says AJGinsburg. “It went on till 1:30 in the morning!” Zipporah Ginsburg arranged for a chocolate carving station and lots of other extras. Mordechai Levovitz and a choir entertained the guests. “Anything that Roots does,” AJ says, “we do amazing.”
The group is hoping to maintain the momentum for the future. “This shouldn’t be just once a year,” says Ginsburg. “We should do a quarterly Shabbos party in shul where everyone invites guests and they stay a whole Shabbos. We should create a support system for them.”
Gary, one of the guests at the event, spoke and moved everyone to tears. He said that his young son never experienced Shabbos before and he loved it so much. “He is one hundred percent in,” says Ginsburg.
Agudas Yisroel of Madison, Rabbi Yisroel Reisman
On leil Shabbos, the shul was packed for davening. “There was lots of ruach and spirit,” says Yerachmiel Bratt, a shul member. The kehilla had invited various guests that they know, plus they were joined by twenty students of the RAJE (Russian American Jewish Experience) program led by Rabbi Akiva Pollack and senior Madrich Sumie Isaacson. Rabbi Reisman delivered a stirring address about his own family’s history.
Meanwhile, Bratt took a few moments to explain the meaning of Lecha Dodi to some of the guests line by line. “I told them about welcoming the Shabbos queen,” he said. “And I realized that when you look at Shabbos through the eyes of a ba’al teshuva, it’s very powerful and very moving. We don’t often appreciate the treasure that we have.”
Seudas Shabbos for 140 people was held in the shul’s downstairs ballroom. Rabbi Reisman walked from table to table, welcoming the guests and connecting with them. Rabbi Mordechai Tropp of Project Inspire explained the various ceremonies of the seudah. Then a spontaneous and inspiring ‘standing kumzitz’ was formed around the dessert table. The guests were addressed by Dovid Cohen, a former member of the shul who now lives in Passaic.
On Shabbos morning, beautiful tefillos were led by Rabbi Yitzie Horowitz and Yehuda Green. In the afternoon a panel of professionals from the area discussed The Jewish Experience in The Corporate World. Speakers included Avi Schick, Chaskel Bennet and Leon Goldenberg. And during Shalosh Seudos, Rabbi Pollack spoke about the importance of reaching out to our fellow Jews.
The Shabbos Project in the Agudah coincided with a Kesivas Sefer Torah dedicated by Phil Kamaras on the fiftieth Yahrzeit of his father. The Torah will eventually be placed on a US Aircraft Carrier. “This was the most beautiful Shabbos that I can remember,” says Bratt.
Congregation Talmud Torah of Flatbush, Rabbi Yaakov Shulman
The intensity of the preparations during the week leading up to Parshas Noach, was comparable to the Yom Tov experience.
Throughout Shabbos, Chazan Chaim Muhlbauer led the davening. He led a beautiful Carlebach Kabbolas Shabbos, which was so lebidik that someone remarked that it felt like Simchas Torah all over again! We had the Seudah Leil Shabbos in our shul’s Simcha Hall with 120 people attending; the 92 participants plus about 30 hosts. Chaim Wielgus, and his son Ahron led the Zemiros and gave a brief Dvar Torah.
The meal was followed by a talk by Yaakov Salomon in the shul, on the topic taken from the Aish Hatorah source book, “The Seven Wonders of Jewish History.” On Shabbos afternoon, Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein came to speak to approx. 600 people attending. He spoke of “The Power of One,” which essentially advances the idea that one person can make a difference in this world: Just look at how Rabbi Goldstein’s idea has transformed worldwide Jewry.
“So many people in the shul have stated that they would like to do this again that we are exploring ways to repeat the effort.” says Rabbi Shulman. We are thinking of perhaps inviting a number of the participants back for another Shabbos sometime before Chanukah. The impact of the Shabbos Project on the hosts may even surpass the impact on the participants, as Chazal say: “Godol ha’me’aseh yoseir min ha’oseh” – Greater the one who causes to be done than the one who does.”
Young Israel of Midwood, Rabbi Eli Boruch Shulman
At the Young Israel of Midwood, the kehilla gathers for a very special simcha, the aufruf of Henry. It’s scheduled perfectly for this weekend to enhance the festivities of the Shabbos Project. Henry is a ba’al teshuva who moved to Flatbush from Philadelphia and joined this warm and caring congregation about a year ago. He is clearly ‘at home’ here, and invites one and all to his chasunah which is being held on Sunday in Lakewood. He also good naturedly accepts compliments on his new black hat which he is wearing for the very first time.
Khal Zichron Mordechai, Rabbi Shimshon Sherer
In this shul, a hostess offers her guest a Siddur with English translations and explains how the English on the left explains the meaning of the tefillos on the right side of the page. “Feel free to browse,” she tells her.
Before Mussaf, Rabbi Sherer addresses his kehilla and welcomes the guests, many of who are from Bensalem. He talks of the far reaching goals as well as the more subtle implications of this weekend. He also talks about the shul’s neighbor, the owner of a local business, who never experienced a real Shabbos, despite repeated attempts by members of the shul to invite him.
This week, he was graciously invited once again. But he refused because his wife was reluctant to participate. “Still,” said Rabbi Sherer, “in honor of this major worldwide Shabbos Project he decided to close his business for the day for the first time ever.” This, too, is a significant result of the Shabbos Project experience.
The Havdalla Experience
Shabbos is technically over, but the celebration continues. Only now it takes place at a large auditorium and includes a mass communal Havadalla ceremony.
Yehuda Green begins the program with joyful song. Charlie Harary speaks about the significance of the havdalla ceremony. He explains that Shabbos is welcomed with fire and Shabbos departs with fire. “Fire expresses the spiritual world,” he says. “The flame always reaches upwards.”
But the candles that begin our Shabbos are all separate. There’s one for every member of the family. Yet the wicks of the havdalla candle are all intertwined. Why is that?
“The Rabbis teach us,” says Mr. Harary, “that if we do Shabbos right, when we leave the holiness we all leave together. We take each and every wick and we bring them all together until the fire gets bigger and bigger. That’s when we realize that, as people, we’re not all that different. We’re pretty much the same. This is the lesson of Shabbos.”
Certainly, a central theme of the weekend is achdus and unity. Shloime Dachs, performing at the Havdalla Experience, sings ‘K’ish Echod B’lev Echod’, the song he says epitomizes the reason we are here tonight.
Rabbi Yaakov Salomon addresses the audience saying, “A few weeks ago we were united by war and tragedy. We davened our hearts out. What more could we do? But tonight we are here together. And we have turned that achdus into a Shabbos of togetherness.”
The pinnacle of the evening, perhaps of the entire Shabbos, is the recitation of Kabolas Ol Malchus Shomayim. Rav Lieff, Shlita and Rav Twersky, Shlita, lead us all in a thunderous Shema followed by ‘Hashem Melech, Hashem Moloch, Hashem Yimloch L’olam Vo’ed’. It’s a moment that can’t be described in words.
THESE ARE JUST A SELECTION OF ALL THAT HAPPENED AROUND FLATBUSH
Looking Towards the Future
The story was told at the Havdalla Experience about the woman who invited her auto mechanic for Shabbos this week. But he wouldn’t come.
Why not? He was afraid. Afraid of what? “Afraid,” he told her, “that he was going to like it.”
The people of Project Inspire — Rabbi Sampson, Rabbi Zakutinsky, Rabbi Giniger, Rabbi Tropp, and the entire office staff — have been amazing. With tremendous siyata dishmaya the Shabbos Project was a great success. By all accounts, it was a job well done.
But now the community must rise to the challenge. What happened this weekend was too special to merely be stored away in our memory banks. In the coming weeks and months our goal is to channel the energy, the vibrant atmosphere, the magic of the Shabbos Project for the future. It’s time to overcome our fears. Soar beyond our comfort zone. Rise above our circumstances. Reach for the stars. We did it this Shabbos. We can do it again.