For the third year in a row, the Baltimore Shabbat Project brought together thousands of Jews from all over the region for Shabbat services, challah bakes, Havdalah and interdenominational celebrations.
An estimated one million people in 1,150 cities in 94 countries took part in the Shabbat Project, an international effort started by South African Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein.
“There is a real thirst worldwide for true Jewish unity and for a genuine connection to Judaism,” Goldstein said in a news release. “And people really resonate with the way Shabbat carves out a sacred space of tranquility and togetherness amidst the frenzy of modern life.”
Shabbat Through the Senses
Since moving to Baltimore a year ago, Arik Shalom and his family have been looking for ways to get actively involved in the Jewish community.
A native of Little Rock, Ark., Shalom, 41, and his wife, Samara, 32, moved to the area in part to provide their three children — Yocheved, 3, Naptali, 2, and Menachem, 6 months — with a rich cultural upbringing.
On Nov. 6, the Shaloms had a chance to do just that at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC with a hands-on afternoon filled with numerous activities as part of the Shabbat Through the Senses program.
“Once you get involved in a community, you get involved by working, meeting people, and these types of events are how you do it,” said Shalom, who was attending his first program of the Baltimore Shabbat Project, which kicked off with this event and culminated in a community Havdalah concert on Saturday, Nov. 12.
Shalom and his family were one of more than 200 from various backgrounds who took part in making challah dough, creating colorful Shabbat candlesticks, hearing Shabbat songs and joining in sing-alongs.
David Bloom, 37, and his sons, Micah, 5, and Noah, 3, especially enjoyed putting together their own Shabbat box, which included valuable resources such as a prayer book.
While Bloom said his family observe Shabbat occasionally, his hope is that the Shabbat Project provides his sons with inspiration to take part in the weekly observance on a more regular basis.
“I think it really makes all the kids feel like a part of Shabbat,” Bloom said. “Also, as the weather and time changes, I think it will be a little bit easier to do Shabbat.”
Jill Smulson, 35, a Howard County resident, said she attended in part to build a strong Jewish foundation for her 7-month-old son, Elliott. A big part of her attendance had to do with exposing Elliott son to the same Jewish values she gained growing up in the Reisterstown and Owings Mills communities.
When her son is old enough to understand the significance of the moment, Smulson has no doubt they will look back on the day together with fond memories of their shared experience.
“I’m always looking to get [my son] accustomed to Jewish life. We want to instill good values and raise him Jewish, so we have to start him early,” Smulson said with a smile.
— Justin Silberman
View photos from Shabbat Through the Senses:
The Great Baltimore and Howard County Challah Bakes
For attendees of the Great Challah Bake and the Howard County Challah Bake in the days following the election, the events greatly contrasted the contentious nationwide political debate and brought the Jewish community closer together.
The third annual Great Challah Bake took place at the Baltimore Convention Center on the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 9. The event was packed with more than 4,000 Jewish women who had come to experience a sense of unity and learn how to bake challah.
“This is really a cross section of everyone,” said Phyllis Lederman, one of the event’s co-chairs. “There are members of the Orthodox community, conservative and reform Jews, even members of the community who are not normally involved with Judaism. It is really what we were striving for.”
Many women expressed how joyous it was to come together with peers for such an entertaining and engaging program. “It is just such a real, feel-good event,” said attendee Marcey Eisen.
“I came because it will be a spiritual evening,” said Sarah-Eta Shnier. “We all need a sense of unity now that the election has ended.”
Shira Bernstein, another attendee, added, “It is the calm after the storm.”
While the Great Challah Bake in Baltimore drew locals in droves, the second annual Challah Bake in Howard County grew by quite an impressive margin, more than doubling in size since the inaugural event last year.
“We are already talking about pushing the event farther into the sanctuary next year,” said Rabbi Susan Grossman of Beth Shalom Congregation, where the event was held. “Last year, we were forced to turn away people. This year, Beth Shalom agreed to host to provide more space, and even so, we have hit capacity tonight and are still accommodating more.”
“I think the purpose of the event is twofold,” she added. “People want connection to traditions and to each other. People desire connection, relief and healing, and a program like this does all of that. All of the different movements are represented in this room. There is a sense of unity in a time of divisiveness. For us to have that right now is incredibly healing.”
Last year, the event focused more around featured speakers who taught attendees about the challah and tradition. “We found that the women really wanted to get more into the actual baking piece of it as well as the socializing,” said Hedy Tanenholtz, who co-chaired the Challah Bake in Howard County this year and last. “With the election turmoil so close to this, it is nice to come together and leave everything behind.”
Beth Millstein, president of the Jewish Federation of Howard County, thought the event’s vision of unifying the community did indeed come true.
“It is really nice to see Jewish women coming together so happily,” she said. “The election is on everyone’s minds, and having events that continue to reinforce and empower women is really important, especially in this day and age.”
— Daniel Nozick
View photos from the Great Challah Bake:
Community Havdalah Concert with Matisyahu
Matthew “Matisyahu” Miller is no stranger to what many in his circle and he refer to as a circuitous and singular “journey.”
But the revelation is something to truly behold, considering the last few years in the life of this 37-year-old New Yorker (by way of West Chester, Pa.), whose protean reggae/hip-hop/world music hits, infused with his Jewish heritage, include 2005’s “King Without a Crown” and 2009’s “One Day.”
Take Saturday’s late-night interview with the JT, immediately following his two-hour-plus concert at Rams Head Live! as part of the local Shabbat Project’s Havdalah concert.
Who else but the oft-contrarian Matisyahu — exhausted and bleary-eyed from his concert, all 6 feet, 4 inches of his Ichabod Crane body inches away from this reporter and sprawled out on the green room couch, signature trench coat and all — would suggest the interview be conducted while his band members and he watched the highly anticipated Dave Chappelle-hosted, post-election episode of “Saturday Night Live”?
“I’ve been coming to Baltimore for 10 years,” Matisyahu said while he affected a certain sleepiness, while noshing on some chocolate and asking for his coconut water.
“I’m in a particular place right now,” Matisyahu said about his rather roller-coaster, heuristic investigation of his Jewish identity and international, interdisciplinary search for his artistic and personal vision.
As far as the various controversies that have reared their heads throughout this digressive course toward such unfettered creative expression, Matisyahu said he “doesn’t really think about it too much; I’m keeping focus on the new record right now. We’re in the studio now making new songs.”
“For now,” he summed it all up, “the music is really the form I like to express myself.”
Lisa Bodziner, Havdalah concert co-chair, said, “We wanted to use this opportunity to bring in more people who don’t have Shabbat on their minds necessarily,” adding that her group sees such events — which also included a two-hour long DJ showcase, a participatory art installation next to the stage, a holiday card craft table and meet-and-greet with the singer himself — as a platform to more directly connect with community members who may not otherwise be as engaged.
Fervently believing that Matisyahu “represents plurality and diversity [which is what] the Shabbat Project’s all about,” Bodziner admitted that though the choice to bring in the at times controversial and provocative musician had resulted in some concern, “when we actually surveyed the 20s and 30s in the audience we were targeting, they said he was the only Jewish musician they would be interested in paying for.”
Considering Matisyahu’s stepping away from the more formal aspects of his religious convictions, there have been those in the Jewish community worldwide who have taken a similar step back from the artist himself.
“He’s not just a guy who grew peyos and can rap,” Bodziner rejoined. “He really is a talented artist.” She said people have questioned him for being on his own journey,“but this concert [wasn’t] just for the [Orthodox] Jewish community, and his character is still solid.”
“I believe that everybody is on a journey, and they should be able to express themselves as long as they’re respectful toward the Jewish community and Israel,” she said. “We do feel his music inspires people.”
One such person is 8-year-old Pikesville denizen Shelby Kirk, who with her parents and older brother, took part in the Matisyahu meet-and-greet before the show.
Kirk revealed it’s “the message” of his music that she so heartily finds endearing.
“He wants everyone to be free,” Kirk said about what she believes this message to ultimately be, adding that her friends are big fans of Matisyahu and that message as well.
“It was a powerful request to ask him to be a part of our Shabbat Project and to embrace who he is and where he’s coming from right now,” Bodziner said. “His voice and his honest approach to Judaism — his struggling with it — can be an inspiration to people who might be exploring similar things.”
— Mathew Klickstein