For the third year, Ottawa’s Jewish community joined Jews with Jewish communities around the world, November 11-12, in observing and celebrating Shabbat. The Shabbat Project, which began in 2013 in South Africa and has spread to the far corners of the world, encourages Jews to “do Shabbat” on one particular Shabbat.
Congregations and other organizations in Ottawa that offer Shabbat programming all participated in the Shabbat Project in some way on November 11 and 12 and then came together as a community at a special Unity Havdallah service and celebration.
Many synagogues held communal Shabbat dinners, while individuals and families were encouraged to host others in their homes for a traditional Shabbat meal.
Several groups organized Challah Bakes – for women, for families and for children – in the days preceding the special Shabbat and during the week following. The Jewish Federation of Ottawa held a hugely successful community-wide Challah Bake for women at Kehillat Beth Israel on November 10. Co-chaired by Melanie Fremeth and Sarah Gordon, the event attracted 200 women for an evening of fun and meaning as they joined thousands of women throughout the world in the mitzvah of preparing challah.
Reva Goldberg attended the Women’s Challah Bake and enjoyed both the event itself and the delicious challah, which her family enjoyed as a result.
“It was an easy way to meet people, working together on a project with eight women at each table,” she said.
The participants each prepared three small challah loaves to be baked at home, and they were asked to donate one of the loaves to the Ottawa Kosher Food Bank. Goldberg said she thought the donation to the food bank was a particularly nice idea.
After the conclusion of Shabbat on Saturday evening, November 12, a community-wide Unity Havdallah service was held at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre, which brought people together from all segments of the Jewish community to usher out Shabbat in the traditional way.
Andrea Freedman, Federation president and CEO, welcomed the large and enthusiastic crowd and introduced three members of the community who spoke of their particular Jewish involvement.
Lindsay Gottheil represented PJ Library, a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, which partners with local sponsoring organizations – in Ottawa, the Federation – to supply age-appropriate, Jewish-themed books to children each month free of charge. Gottheil talked about how her family celebrates Shabbat together and how the books supplied by PJ Library have been helpful and inspirational.
Dan Wolfish, representing Kehillat Beth Israel, compared the hectic weekdays in a busy household to preparing for a wedding in contrast to the peace and tranquillity when Shabbat, the Sabbath Queen, arrives. He finds meaning, he said, in continuing the traditions of his ancestors, “and you realize that the prayer you are giving your children is the same prayer that our ancestors said to their children.”
“Shabbat is about community, collegiality, friendship and connection,” Wolfish added.
Eyal Padolsky, a third-year University of Ottawa student and president of Hillel Ottawa, asked, “What makes this week special?”
Replying to his own rhetorical question, Padolsky said there was nothing special about the week and noted that the whole current month of Cheshvan on the Jewish calendar is “holiday-free.”
“Because we are Jews, it is our responsibility to take the ordinary and make it extraordinary … This coming week, I challenge each and every one of you to take something mundane and make it special. I see this as the essence of Judaism and the true meaning of Shabbat,” Padolsky said.
The Havdallah service was led by Rabbi Noam Katz, an educator at Leo Baeck Day School, a Reform movement day school in Toronto, and musician who has performed around the world. With the lyrics to the songs projected on a screen, and accompanied by drummer Jared Gershon, Rabbi Katz played guitar and led the audience in the Havdallah blessings, followed by a rousing singalong of familiar Hebrew tunes. A beautiful rendition of “Oseh Shalom,” was sung to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and continued with everyone joining together to sing “Hallelujah” in tribute to the Jewish Canadian poet, songwriter and singer who had died earlier in the week.
“We lost a great poet this week,” said Rabbi Katz. “We honour his memory by the poetry he shared with us.”
The Havdallah event also included crafts, many people made their own Havdallah candles, games for the children and socializing over refreshments.