Jewish communities celebrate Chief Rabbi’s Shabbat UK initiative

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. Picture: PA Archive/Sean Dempsey.

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. Picture: PA Archive/Sean Dempsey. - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Ima

Communities came together for special events to mark the Jewish day of Shabbat as part of a new initiative spearheaded by the UK’s chief rabbi to engage Jews with the traditional holy day.

Around 700 people gathered at Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, in Norrice Lea, for a community Shabbat meal on Friday, and hundreds turned out for services, food and entertainment on Friday and Saturday at Hampstead Synagogue, in Dennington Park Road, West Hampstead.

They were among 600 events which took place across the UK to mark Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis’s Shabbat UK, a new initiative calling upon all Jews – from the most secular to the most committed – to observe one special Shabbat with all of its traditions and laws.

Rabbi Mirvis said: “Shabbat UK saw British Jewry at its best. Through engaging with Shabbat in an enjoyable and uplifting manner, tens of thousands of people now appreciate, all the more, how relevant and meaningful Jewish tradition is in our modern age.”

Shabbat is the Jewish day of rest and seventh day of the week, on which traditionally religious Jews remember the Biblical creation of the heavens and the earth in six days.

In practical terms the Shabbat starts a few minutes before sunset on Friday and runs until an hour after sunset on Saturday.

As part of his initiative, Rabbi Mirvis called on communities across the UK to engage with Shabbat by switching off all of their electronic equipment, abandoning motorised travel and spending quality time with their families and friends instead.

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Suburb resident Carolyn Bogush, of Norrice Lea, led a team of 150 volunteers with her husband Gideon Smith who arranged the Shabbat meal at Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue on Friday.

The team also arranged for synagogue members to open their homes to fellow worshippers for special lunches on Saturday, followed by services and entertainment at the synagogue.

She said: “They had people in their homes who they had never met before and that was one of the biggest highlights of the weekend: it created a real sense of community.

“Our aim was to create that communal feel to get people to connect with each other. People felt that this was one of the warmest, most engaging Shabbats they’ve had in our community so I think we achieved our aim.”

Shabbat UK is a project modelled on the South African Shabbos Project which last year captivated the Jewish community of South Africa.

This year the project went international and was celebrated in different ways in 350 cities across the world.