Welcoming Shabbat B’Yachad – Together
The Yachad Jewish Identity Program harnesses the long, sunny Fridays of Israeli summer to run communal Kabbalat Shabbat programs across the country, bringing thousands of Israelis closer to their heritage and their communities
“Not all of us bring the Shabbat into our homes through the traditional songs or with Kiddush,” says Ortal Ohana, a mother of two from Beit Shean. “But that doesn’t mean that we don’t want a taste of Judaism, of spirituality, and an opportunity to connect our children to the joy of Judaism.”
The Yachad Program for Jewish Identity‘s Kabbalat Shabbat events across Israel are designed with families specifically like Ohana’s in mind. In community parks across the country, Yachad’s Jewish Identity Coordinators are enabling Israelis of all ages and backgrounds to welcome the approaching Shabbat through live music, games, crafts, and lively discussion over picnic dinners, Non-coercive in nature, the focus of these programs is not on the rituals involved in the upcoming Day of Rest, but rather on the richness and beauty inherent in the day and the opportunity families will have to bond with one another.
“Most people are familiar with Kabbalat Shabbat from the synagogue,” explains Eliyahu Galil, the Yachad coordinator in Maale Yosef, on Israel’s Lebanese border. “They perceive it as something that must be done in a religious setting – or not at all. That’s why we we take it out of the synagogue, into a shared public space, to make it open, accessible and appealing to everyone.”
Galil’s Kabbalat Shabbat events emphasize the joy inherent in Judaism, featuring challah baking for children or a Klezmer band that brought everyone to their feet in dance and song. “For secular Jews like me, there aren’t many informal, embracing and meaningful opportunities to connect to Judaism in a comfortable way,” relates one participant, 33-year-old Yael Bardugo. “I come to Yachad’s Kabbalat Shabbat in the park because I want my children to feel connected to Jewish tradition and to feel part of a community – even if we’re not traditionally religious.”
The Next Generation
Over and above strengthening Israelis’ connection to their heritage and their community, the Kabbalat Shabbat programs are also an opportunity to strengthen family relationships, according to Ilan Igbi, the Yachad coordinator in the coastal city of Ashkelon. As such, Igbi’s most recent Kabbalat Shabbat event was geared specifically for mothers and daughters. “Life is busy,” he says, “and it can be difficult for parents to carve out quality time with their children, when they can really talk, listen and enjoy each other’s company.”
The mothers and daughters learned together about the traditional Friday night blessing parents say over their children. “It’s hard to describe how beautiful that moment was when we all blessed our daughters. It was very emotional,” testifies Yael Buchnik, who participated with both her mother and her two young daughters, aged 4 and 8. “My girls kept talking about it after we left and have now asked me to bless them each Friday night in our own home, something we had never done before.”
Welcoming Shabbat in Russian
In addition to serving the Israeli secular population at large, the Yachad Program also seeks to provide solutions to the specific needs of the country’s large Russian-speaking population by placing Russian-speaking Jewish Identity Coordinators in areas with large groups of immigrants from the Former Soviet Union.
“Many Russian-speaking Israelis never enter a synagogue and aren’t at all familiar with Kabbalat Shabbat,” says Says Lidia Stalmah, the Russian-speaking coordinator in the Haifa region. “In fact, many of the people who come to our programs are only just beginning to learn about Jewish traditions, whether they be Russian-speakers who have been in Israel for many years or recent olim.”
This is confirmed by Irina, a recent immigrant who saw a flyer for one of Stalmah’s musical Kabbalat Shabbat programs and decided to attend with her son.
“Kabbalat Shabbat was beautiful,” she says. “Singing Jewish songs helped us feel closer to our Jewish heritage. We’ve never really done anything to celebrate Shabbat, but we enjoyed it so much that it got me thinking about other ways in which I could try to bring the atmosphere of Shabbat into our home.”