Leaders of Jewish movements agree to promote Shabbat joys

NEW YORK — Some spend the day praying in synagogue, sharing a meal with family and friends, resting and then praying some more.

For others, Shabbat is a time for a family outing or a walk in the woods.

Jews from all denominations separate the day of rest from the work week, cherishing the gift of time set aside for spiritual and physical restoration.

And though the leaders of the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform movements are warring, they all agree on the need to promote Shabbat.

Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald wants to bring the gift of Shabbat to all Jews. And according to surveys, it's a gift most American Jews have never gotten.

Buchwald is the founder and director of the National Jewish Outreach Program, which tries to bring basic Jewish literacy to everyone by sponsoring short courses at synagogues.

So he designated Friday, April 4 as "Shabbat Across America." He hopes that at this time, some 40,000 Jews of every religious stripe will welcome Shabbat with worship and dinner at their local synagogues.

He expects 300 to 400 Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative and Orthodox synagogues to join in.

"Shabbat Across America" was created to bridge the distance between many Jews and Shabbat observance, but also to bridge the distance between Jews with different religious philosophies by bringing synagogues from each of the mainstream movements to work in tandem on the same program.

The national organizations representing liberal synagogues are promoting it and coordinating it among their members. While Orthodox synagogues are participating, the Orthodox Union has opted out.

The group said it did not want to extend even an implicit imprimatur to Shabbat experience in a Reform synagogue, which may not adhere to Orthodox standards, said Rabbi Raphael Butler, O.U. executive vice president.

But Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism disagreed. "The Jewish world's as divided as it could be and this idea is a symbolic bridge builder, too."