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Streams Join Forces to Promote Shabbat Experience for Everyone

March 25, 1997
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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.

Whatever one’s approach, there are Jews from all denominations who separate the day of rest from the work week, cherishing the gift of time set aside for spiritual and physical restoration.

Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald wants to bring that gift to all the Jews who have not experienced the pleasure of Shabbat themselves. And according to surveys, that includes the vast majority of those living in America.

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 one of their local synagogues.

He expects between 300 and 400 Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative and Orthodox synagogues to participate in the event.

“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 backing the effort by promoting it and coordinating it among their members.

But while individual Orthodox synagogues are participating, the Orthodox Union has opted out.

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

“The bottom line is that I’m not endorsing a particular Shabbat experience in any synagogue,” Butler said, but added: “At the same time, I think it’s wonderful that synagogues all over the country have such an opportunity to participate” in such a program.

The Reform movement greeted the idea with tremendous enthusiasm, said Dru Greenwood, director of outreach and synagogue affiliation at the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

As soon as the Reform congregations received a mailing about it, dozens signed up, she said.

“We told all our congregations that this was a great way to support klal Yisrael [the Jewish people], which is in short supply these days,” Greenwood said during the recent kickoff for the program.

Held at a Manhattan diner, the event featured a Jewish ethnic-funk band named “Inasense” to provide the hip background for the screening of the public service announcement promoting the idea of the Sabbath.

There were also a lot of photo-ops with rabbis from each of the denominations posing together — a hard photo to get, these days — at the event.

“Shabbat has always been a bridge builder,” said Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism.

“The Jewish world’s as divided as it could be, and this idea is a symbolic bridge builder, too.”

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