Thoughts on the Shabbat of Love
Whenever we offer our prayers on Shabbat both in the Amidah and in the Friday night Kiddush we speak of “Ahavah uv’ratzon,,” Shabbat being a gift from God bestowed willingly and with love. So the concept of a Shabbat of Love, conceived by the Jewish Federations of North America was not much of a stretch conceptually. The idea as they describe it was to bring together Jews throughout the community “spreading love for who we are.”
This project was conceived in response to the global surge of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. With more than 3,000 anti-Semitic incidents reported by the ADL in the three months after October 7th, the national organizations felt we should respond with a Shabbat in which we reconnect, not only with family and friends, but with the whole Jewish community. The organizers spoke of bringing together “Jewish people of diverse backgrounds and affiliations to experience the sacredness of Shabbat and to center Jewish pride and joy.” The idea, they said, “will be to show the world how much Jews love each other and how much they love being Jewish.”
Our congregation was contacted by Serene Hudson, Partnership Consultant for JFNA, with another aspect of this project. Serene introduced herself to us as “a local Aurora ally – and one of the congregants of City of Light Anglican Church who attended B’nai Israel’s beautiful prayer vigil for Israel a few weeks ago.” She told us that she is facilitating a project that brings allies together with Jewish congregations, the Shabbat of Love with Supportive Neighbors. She was trying to facilitate connection between Jewish congregations and supportive neighbors during “a dark time when we witness the alarming rise of antisemitism, the continuing hostage crisis, and of war in Israel.”
The objective of this project is by bringing Jewish and Christian congregants together that we might “kindle a light of solidarity that we pray will ensure that Jewish communities no longer feel alone.” She adds, “I desire this for my own community where my family and I live, attend school and worship.” So, what she proposed was that one or more families in our congregation might welcome allies to their Shabbat table this weekend.
In a subsequent email, she mentioned that she had already placed four families at Etz Chaim in Lombard or at Beth Shalom in Naperville and wondered if we could accommodate one family as well. In response, we told her we are reinstituting our Shabbat on the Road program this evening and we would welcome a family to join us at that time. She was pleased to learn of our program and to arrange for a family to be a part of it tonight.
In her emails, it is clear that she is very much aware of our disappointment in the silence from so many Christians whom we have considered to be friends over the years. She writes, “The silence toward blatant antisemitism that has stunned the Jewish community may be the result of neighbors feeling ill-equipped to know how to respond or what to do. This project aims to bridge that gap. We seek to open Shabbat tables to those supportive neighbors whose growing concern for the safety of their Jewish friends needs a place to be felt and received.”
We are pleased to welcome a family to our Shabbat on the Road. In speaking with Serene Hudson, I mentioned that our congregation is always happy to welcome guests to our services and kiddush afterwards and that we have had many individuals and groups who have come in the past and whom we would be pleased to see in the future as well. It is good to know that we have friends in the community, some of whom we heard from back in October and who joined us at the program we held then, and it is our hope that we might hear their voices strongly raised in support of our Jewish community and against anti-semitism throughout the world.
When the kohanim offer the priestly blessing in the synagogue – you may have seen this on a visit to Israel where it is done daily- they begin with a brachah. It starts off like most other blessings with Baruch Ata Adonay Eloheinu Melech HaOlam, and continues somewhat differently than usual, Asher Kidshanu bikedushato shel Aharon, who sanctified us through the holiness of Aaron, V’tzivanu l’varech et amcha Yisrael b’ahavah, and commanded us to bless Your people Israel in love. In our service, both morning and evening we speak of God’s love for us manifested in the gift of Torah and mitzvot, and our reciprocal love for God mentioned in the Sh’ma, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.” The other part of this message of love is the commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself,” in Leviticus. These two mitzvot, love of God and love of neighbor, go hand in hand, for we are called upon to recognize the divine image in all people. Interestingly both Rabbi Akiva and Jesus are said to have spoken of these two commandments as the central teachings of the biblical tradition, of the Torah.
We are glad to hear from our neighbors that they wish to join us in a Shabbat of Love and though it is a small beginning, it is our hope that it may be a sign of the renewal of the love and mutual respect that has marked our interfaith relations through the years.