Beginning at sundown on Friday, Jews from more than 600 congregations will gather across the United States and Canada to honor the spiritual importance of Sabbath, the weekly day of rest known in Judaism as Shabbat.
In Columbia, Congregation Beth Shalom will mark the event, Shabbat Across America, with a special service and Torah at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 2615 Shepard Blvd.
Shabbat Across America began nine years ago by the National Jewish Outreach Program to educate the Jewish community about the fourth of the Ten Commandments (called Aseret ha-Dibrot in Judaism). According to the Book of Genesis, God rested, or shavat, on the seventh day. In turn, God told Moses in the book of Exodus, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
Too often, the focus of Sabbath is on what’s prohibited on that day, rather than what you can do, said Laura Flacks-Narrol, the director of education for the Hillel Center. Shabbat Across America emphasizes the joys of the Sabbath, she said.
“I think it’s important to take a day, not necessarily Saturday, but a day to take Sabbath, and take time out with family and friends,” said Flacks-Narrol. “It’s so important for my family to have our every-week time, to have a nice meal, a relaxing meal, where we can talk and we aren’t rushing out to another event. It’s time for us to remember that there is something more to life, a higher power.”
Another goal of the national event is to attract nonpracticing Jews back to the temple. About half of American Jews are not affiliated with any synagogue, said Rabbi Yitzchak Rosenbaum of the National Jewish Outreach Program.
“We want to have as many synagogues across the country try to reach out to those that don’t come every week, and through the power of mass, we want people to know that they are welcome,” Rosenbaum said. “We want synagogues on one night to say, ‘You are welcome, we want you.’”
Congregations across America and Canada have registered to take part in the event, and for the first time, the program will also be held at a number of military bases.
At Unitarian Universalist in Columbia, the evening will begin with a general welcome, followed by a learner’s service, for those who are not familiar with the traditional Sabbath services.
Rabbi Yossi Feintuch of Congregation Beth Shalom will then offer the traditional D’Var Torah, followed by a second Torah by Flacks-Narrol. After traditional prayers, a potluck dinner will be served.
Suggested donations, $6 for adults and $3 for children, will go directly to Magen David Adom, an organization that provides blood and emergency services for Israel.
“It’s a networking opportunity for families to meet each other, and for the community, a chance to build a sense of who we are,” Flacks-Narrol said.
“It’s important for there to be a community where people understand and appreciate their differences, rather than consider them hindrances.”