Last week’s Challah Bake at Yeshivat Noam kicked-off the Teaneck/Bergenfield community’s participation in The Shabbos Project, which also included explanatory minyanim, an oneg, a communal Shabbos lunch, a panel discussion, Havdalah and a concert.
Many people volunteered their time to coordinate the various events. Some of the key players were Rabbi Yitzchok Weinberger, director of the Center for Jewish Identity; Rabbi David Pietruszka, director of the Jewish Learning Experience; Dr. Debby Rapps, director of the Jewish Youth Encounter Program (JYEP), and Julie Farkas, director of JiNspire Bergen County.
The challah bake was attended by over 300 women. The crowd included mothers, daughters and teens. The participants hailed from many different communities in New Jersey, including Bergenfield, Teaneck, Tenafly, Fair Lawn, Glen Rock and Hillside.
Tziporah Bracha Levin, of Bergenfield, attended the event as a volunteer. “What a wonderful feeling it is having the Shechina here, hovering over more than 300 women and girls at our challah bake,” she said.
“The essence of connection is what drew me here,” said a woman from Fair Lawn who didn’t wish to be identified. “I want to be here not for the baking, but as a connection for us Jewish women.”
Some of the women at the event had been brought by Farkas, who has led groups of women on trips to Israel since 2011 through the Jewish Women’s Renaisance Project. Thirty-five women who had or will be attending the JWRP trip to Israel attended the Challah Bake.
Among those women was Pamela Litke, of Glen Rock, who will be attending the JWRP trip in December. She attended this past week’s event in order to meet people and get involved with the Jewish community. To her, attending the challah bake and the forthcoming trip to Israel is about “feeling my Jewish oats, fulfillment and feeling soulful.”
“The gamut of the community is represented here, from women who cover their hair to people who don’t go to shul regularly,” said Daniel Rothner, founder and director of Areyvut, the organization which planned the event. The event was also sponsored by Congregation Beth Sholom, Congregation Shomrei Torah and the Jewish Center of Teaneck.
The event began with some brief words by Dena Levie and Esther Friedman, who also helped organize the event.
“There are 300 women in this room tonight,” said Levie. “Next year there’s going to be 3,000.”
Mandana Balour led the challah making session. She began by saying, “It has always been a dream of mine since I became religious to see Jews across the world keeping just one Shabbos. … I really pray that this Shabbos will bring all Jews united together and it will be the unity that Hashem is looking for to bring a geulah sh’leima.”
Every woman and girl in attendance received a recipe for challah and three pre-made sections of dough, donated by Butterflake bakery. The women watched as Balour made her dough from scratch while explaining the significance in Judaism of challah, as well as each ingredient in the challah.
She explained that the mixing of flour and water together is reminiscent of the way in which God mixed earth and a raindrop and kneaded it together to create Adam. Balour said the sifting the flour signifies a woman sifting away the bad influences in her life. The water represents Torah and the sugar represents emunah, because when a person recognizes that “it is all from Hashem, there will be no sourness or bitterness.” Salt, said Balour, represents rebuke and that is why only a little bit is added to the dough. The dough should be kneaded softly and patiently, she said, “and that’s how we need to speak to our husband and children.” The yeast, she said, represents the compliments we should give others because the yeast grows and bubbles over and that is the way a person feels when receiving a compliment. Finally, the oil reminds us to treat each person as unique and special because when the Cohanim were anointed with oil, it signified their uniqueness.
The Shabbos Project events continued with a Carlebach-style explanatory Kabbalat Shabbat at Beth Abraham, which was attended by about 100 people, according to Daniella Lejtman, who was part of the Beth Abraham Shabbos Project committee. After a dinner at their hosts’ homes, 50 people attended an oneg Shabbos at the home of Barry and Joy Sklar, which was led by Rabbi Rael Blumenthal, director of Teaneck NCSY.
“The evening was a wonderful opportunity for Jews throughout the area to enjoy the beauty of a Friday night oneg,” said Joy Sklar.
Lejtman said that the explanatory Shacharit service on Shabbat at Keter Torah, led by Rabbi Steven Weil with the help of Ed Stelzer and Yussi Zelig, was attended by 60 participants. About 125 people attended the community lunch at Keter Torah, led by Rabbi Blumenthal, and about 100 people attended the Havdalah service.
“Everyone was swaying, shoulder-to-shoulder, as this most powerful Shabbos was coming to an end,” said Lejtman. “The kedusha and the unity in the room were palpable.”
Farkas brought approximately 50 women to the Shabbos Project events, from the Challah Bake to the Saturday night concert at the Teaneck Jewish Center.
Rapps connected JYEP families to spend Shabbat with their JYEP Big Brothers and Big Sisters. She said that over half of the JYEP parent body participated this past Shabbos. “It was gratifying to be able to bring the Big Brother and Big Sister experience at the JYEP up a notch by getting the entire family involved in the mitzvah of reaching out!,” said Rapps.
JYEP parent Esther and her family were guests of a local family for the Shabbos Project. “We had a wonderful time and were impressed by what a fine, caring family [our hosts] were,” she said.
In addition, many people in the community were inspired to reach out to family, friends and co-workers and invite them to participate in the Shabbos Project.
“It is our privilege to reach out and invite every Jewish person into our homes no matter what their religious persuasion,” said Rabbi Mordechai Glick, who, together with his wife Nina, was part of the Shabbat afternoon panel discussion at Keter Torah. “Our children must learn to respect everyone–whether they wear a yarmulke or not, whether they keep Shabbat or not–we are all the same.”
Lea Weinreb, one of the committee members from Keter Torah, said, “Given that we started this project on the Sunday before Rosh Hashanah, it was amazing that we pulled it off. What is exciting is that this was just the first year and we have learned and are able to build upon it for next year. In my opinion, we need a long-term approach. I envision a year-long effort to culminate in the Shabbos Project 2015.”
Next year’s Shabbos Project is set to take place on Shabbat Parshat Lech Lecha.
By Tova Domnitch