The Young Israel of Hewlett is continuing the message of Purim, uniting Jews with Torah and mitzvoth (commandments) this Shabbat, as they participate, for the third time, in Shabbat Across America and Canada.
The program was initiated in 1997 by NJOP, the National Jewish Outreach Program, to “get thousands of Jews to celebrate what unites all Jews,” said Larry Greenman, Assistant Director of NJOP. “It’s a campaign to take Shabbos and make it their own.”
The program at YIH currently has 80 signed up for the dinner but, said Chana Freedman, they are expecting more. Friday night will begin at 5:30 pm with a Carlebach davening for Kabbalat Shabbat led by Jason Mayer, featuring rousing and inspiring singing, followed by a Shabbat dinner with explanations of the customs and observances by Young Israel of Hewlett Rabbi Heshy Blumstein. At 7:30 pm there will be a dessert kumzitz (sing along) for adults and children and at 8 pm a magic show will keep the children entertained while the adults listen to guest speaker Rabbi David Fohrman, author of “The Queen You Thought You Knew, Unmasking Esther’s Hidden Story.”
Shabbat morning will have Carlebach prayers in the main shul at 8:30 am, with an explanatory service led by Rabbi Blumstein at 9:45 am in a class separate from the main davening. “We will be talking about the purpose and power of Tefilah, taking out certain tefillot and explaining them,” said Blumstein. Among the prayers to be discussed will be Adon Olam and Kriyat Shema, he said. He said that he has done this before. “Most people find this to be the most pleasure-full experience with tefillah that they have ever had. It’s interactive. They can ask questions that they are afraid to ask in other settings.” Freedman noted that there will be a free Kiddush-buffet luncheon Shabbat morning after davening and Rabbi Fohrman will again speak while the children will watch another magic show. Reservations are required.
“Last year it was smaller,” recalled Freedman. “We only had Friday night dinner with 50 people. We are trying to step it up, trying to get more people involved.”
“Our shul is unique,” stressed Blumstein, the rabbi at YIH for 14 years. “We are Orthodox but very open to outreach and kiruv. In the past, when people came, they felt the love and warmth (of the shul). We felt that we should open this up to the greater community, so we decided to join with Shabbat Across America. We had events before where we opened the shul many times to communal meals. We generally attract about 50.” When he heard that 80 were attending he exclaimed, “Good, excellent!” and when he heard that more were expected he exclaimed, “Great!”
“It’s an opportunity to eat together, sing together and dance together,” he said. “I hope we will be able to attract people and, eventually, they would become regulars in our shul. The whole community is welcome and we would love to see you.”
“It’s run across the board,” said Greenman, of the Shabbat Across America and Canada Program. “It’s not exclusive to a denomination; Orthodox, Conservative Reform, Hillel, Chabad. It’s also being done internationally this year, in Tel Aviv, Greece, Mexico, Japan. It’s the 17th annual one. It’s captivated so many people. Many don’t have the opportunity to experience Shabbat. Many do not regularly celebrate Shabbat. It’s an opportunity to join with friends and extended family. It excites people.” He noted that when people see the poster in the shul listing several hundred of locations they think, “maybe my mom or nephew is there.” He said that they provide tools for the synagogues, outlines to the beginner’s service, have the prayers Carlebach style, upbeat, and have the hosts of the Shabbat meals present who are more familiar with the rituals, or the Rabbis, explaining. He noted that the first time they hear Ayshet Chayil it might intrigue them.
“Shabbat unites all Jews,” added Greenman. “It’s an opportunity to feel connected. Hundreds of thousands do it regularly. Tens of thousands do it one evening each year to feel connected. They may point to it as the point that spurred them to find out more.
“We are thrilled that the YIH is participating,” continued Greenman. “Rabbi Blumstein has a lot of energy and vitality; he will transform Friday night for the participants. We follow up and get feedback. How it impacted. It helps assess our successes and begin planning for next year’s event.”
Over 900,000 Jews of all types have participated to date; about 700 synagogues world wide will be holding this program this year. The cost of the dinner at YIH is $10 for attendees 13 and up. Children are free. To register call Chana Freedman at the Young Israel of Hewlett at (516) 295-2282.