Reinvigorating Shabbat

A group of women and girls prepare their challah dough the
Baltimore Shabbat Project’s Women’s Challah Bake last year. (Photo by David Stuck)

This month, the Baltimore  Jewish community will participate in its fifth Shabbat Project, an initiative started by Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein in South Africa in 2013 that brings Jews from all denominations  together to celebrate Shabbat.

This year’s festivities  include challah-making,  inter-synagogue Shabbat  dinners and more.

“Everybody and anybody  could use a little extra  invigoration of their Shabbat  observance,” said Larry Ziffer, former CEO of The Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education and volunteer organizer for the Baltimore Shabbat project. “It doesn’t matter if you observe  every single week. Things  become ordinary. How do you infuse new energy, new joy and new creativity into your  observance of Shabbat?”

In the Baltimore area, challah bakes are being held on Oct. 24 and 25 at the Rosenbloom  Owings Mills JCC.

Since the first Shabbat Project,  which happened only in South Africa, communities across the world have held their own Shabbat Project challah bakes and special Shabbat programs. Last year, more than 1 million people from 97 countries and 1,416 cities  participated. Nisa Felps, Pink Challah Bake coordinator  for the international Shabbat  Project and a volunteer for the Baltimore Shabbat Project,  expects this year will be even bigger.

“It’s about coming together,” Felps said. “There are many, many different ways you can be a part of the Shabbat project. There are congregational events, there are Kiddushes, there’s Havdalah events, there’s Friday night dinners. Maybe you’ll just celebrate with your own family, but marking this Shabbat by asking, ‘Why is Shabbat important to us?’”

Both JCC events are  expected to have 500 people in attendance. The Family Challah Bake on Oct. 24 features challah-making from scratch,  with ingredients provided by  the JCC, as well as Shabbat- themed projects for families and pizza from Mama Leah’s.

The next night will be Baltimore’s first Great Pink Challah Bake, an evening for women sponsored by Myriad Women’s Health and Sharsheret to raise awareness for breast cancer in conjunction with Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The evening will similarly feature challah preparation, and offers BRCA screenings on site as well as Jewish music and  pink  desserts.

The Jewish Federation of Howard County will also host two challah-baking events: the Mega Family Challah Bake on Oct. 21 at the Lubavitch Center of Howard County and The Great Challah Bake 2018, an event for women held at Laurel Park on Oct. 25.

Felps, a two-time breast cancer survivor, is spearheading the Great Pink Challah Bake initiative for the Shabbat Project. Baltimore is one of 9 U.S. cities that will host the event this month.

“I believe there was synergy. The Shabbat Project happened to take place in Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I wanted to bring the two together,” she said.

Felps, who will be speaking at Baltimore’s event, said it’s all about awareness. One in 40 Ashkenazi Jews carry the BRCA gene, increasing their breast cancer risk, versus one in 400 in the general population.

“After being diagnosed and going through everything I’ve gone through, I feel it is my responsibility to reach as many people as I can reach,” she said.

On Oct. 19 Baltimore  Hebrew Congregation and Suburban Orthodox Congregation will hold a joint dinner in commemoration of the Shabbat  Project. For Ziffer, an event like this speaks volumes.

“When you take two synagogues like Suburban Orthodox  and Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, an Orthodox synagogue and a Reform temple, getting together for a program, what they are saying is, ‘We realize that there is something we have in common that transcends that which makes us different,’” said Ziffer.

Ziffer said he and his wife will celebrate the Shabbat Project by stepping out of Pikesville and attending a service at Chabad of Owings Mills. As for Felps, she’s been a little too busy to think that far ahead.

“Interestingly, I haven’t had time to figure that out yet,” she said. “I have to take it one day at a time, but I will do something meaningful for me and my family.”

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