Shabbos Project expands to Bay Area

The Bay Area will be taking part in the Shabbos Project, an international initiative designed to keep Shabbat alive and unite Jews. Events have been scheduled for three days starting Thursday, Oct. 23.

Paula Abdul

“I really hope that thousands of people throughout the Bay Area will have an enhanced Shabbat experience because of this,” said Rabbi Akiva Naiman, a local organizer of the initiative and the East Bay director of NCSY, a Modern Orthodox youth group.

The event is only in its second year, but it has expanded by leaps and bounds after an overwhelmingly successful debut in South Africa last year, when Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein encouraged Jews around the nation to experience Shabbat together. According to reports, approximately 3,000 women showed up for a challah bake, 5,000 people attended a Havdallah concert and 90 percent of South Africa’s synagogues joined the project.

This year, the Shabbos Project will be held in 212 cities in 33 countries, according to organizers.

Setup for the “Great Street Challah Bake” last year in Johannesburg, South Africa photo/shabbos project

Sarah Engle, a Bay Area teen involved in NCSY, brought the project to Naiman’s attention. “Sarah said to me, ‘Why don’t we start something like that here? People haven’t heard about it,’ ” Naiman said. “So I told her, ‘Great! You’re in charge.’ ”

The initiative got a big publicity boost two weeks ago when former “American Idol” judge Paula Abdul, who is Jewish, came on board. In a Shabbos Project promotional video, she says, “Shabbos is very important to me because it’s my time to be just me — no paparazzi, no invasion of my privacy. I can always look forward to the end of the week and say, ‘Thank God I have Shabbos.’ ”

In the Bay Area, organizations participating include NCSY, Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland and the Jewish Study Network in Palo Alto. Although the project’s manifesto urges Jews to remove themselves from the distractions and pressures of daily life, and to keep one Shabbat according to halachah (Jewish law), programming is designed to appeal to Jews of all observance levels, Naiman said.

Events scheduled for both Beth Jacob and the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto include a community challah bake for all ages on Oct. 23 and a musical Havdallah for the whole family on Oct. 25. There are additional events, as well, including a Shabbat dinner for teens.

For details, including costs, visit or More information about the Shabbos Project can be found at