It's finally happened. Marketing gurus have gottentheir hands on Shabbat, taking it off dining-room tables and throwingit up onto billboards across the nation -- in the hopes of bringingit back down to more tables.
With dozens of red-and-blue signs around town,radio jingles, and ads in national publications such as Newsweek andSports Illustrated, Shabbat Across America is leaving its mark on LosAngeles -- even before the event takes place on March 20.
Marsha Rothpan, assistant director of theCouncil on Jewish Life, and Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, chair of ShabbatAcross Los Angeles, expect 6,000 local participants.
Organizers are expecting 65,000 under-affiliatedJews to attend Shabbat services and dinner at about 630 synagoguesnationwide -- more than double last year's participation.
"We have shown American congregations that if theyreached out and did something nontraditional like marketing Shabbat,people would heed the call and would come," says Melanie Notkin,marketing director for the National Jewish Outreach Program, theorganization that is sponsoring the event for the second year.
In Los Angeles, 6,000 people are expected at 60synagogues of all denominations, thanks to a strong local push by theJewish Federation's Council on Jewish Life.
"My hope is that people who go will be introducedto a friendly, nonthreatening Jewish environment so that they canbegin to get a grasp of what Shabbat could be in their lives," saysMarsha Rothpan, assistant director of the Council on JewishLife.
According to Notkin, Los Angeles was the onlycommunity where the local federation joined in on thecampaign.
"We are a midsize organization based in New York,trying to reach synagogues across America and Canada. We're not inL.A., we don't have staff there, so it's wonderful when we haveregional organizations helping us," says Notkin, who hopes that otherfederations will get involved next year.
Rothpan points out that there was also a deeperreason for the Council on Jewish Life getting involved: Jewish unity,a demonstration that, despite differences, the concept of Shabbatunites all Jews.
At an organizational meeting, Rothpan says, "itwas amazing to see a Chabad rabbi talking to a female Reform rabbiabout how they would get people to come, and what they were going todo there," Rothpan says.
Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B'nai David-Judea, who ischairing the Council on Jewish Life's Shabbat Across Los AngelesCommittee, says that the message going out to community leaders andaffiliated members is just as important as attracting theunaffiliated.
"Over the last year, so much has been writtenabout the division and the rifts within the Jewish community,"Kanefsky says. "Some of us -- not enough of us -- were saying thatarea of common concern overshadows the areas concerning which wedisagree. Shabbat Across America popped up as the perfect opportunityto actually demonstrate that we share a great deal, not just insocial-action projects but in religious areas."
Shabbat Across America works so well, he pointsout, because while everyone is participating in the same program,each venue can design a service that best fits its philosophy andtarget audience.
And synagogues across the Los Angeles area aretaking advantage of that opportunity for diversity, offering upeverything from traditional services followed by chicken soup andkugel, to dairy potluck followed by creative spirituality.
At the Jewish Home for the Aging, Rabbi WilliamGordon is hoping to see family members who are usually apart onShabbat come celebrate together. The oldest residents at the twocampuses -- a 111-year-old and a 107-year-old -- will lightcandles.
Temple Israel of Hollywood is hosting RabbiSheldon Zimmerman, president of the Reform movement's seminary,who'll talk about "The Spiritual Life of the Reform Jew: Can We BeBoth Traditional and Modern?"
The West Valley Jewish Community Center is usingShabbat Across America as an opportunity to reach out to the manyRussian families in the area, according to Stacey Barrett,educational director for the Jewish Community Centers Association ofGreater Los Angeles.
Other JCCs are conducting lay-led services, someof them with creative touches such as poetry and storytelling.
"The centers are offering an alternative to thesynagogue for those who are unaffiliated or under-affiliated who wantto try things in smaller steps," Barrett said.
Of course, for those who want the full-blowntraditional Shabbat, there is Chabad, which offers beginner-friendlyservices.
"The best way to experience Shabbos is whileenjoying delicious food, talking, laughing, singing," says RabbiMoishe Gutnick, Chabad of Northridge. "It's not just an academicexercise. It's experiencing it and enjoying it."
And it might not matter where or how.
"It says that if all Jews keep just one Shabbos,Messiah will come," Gutnick says. "This is a good start."
For more information, call (888) SHABBAT or (213)761-8325.
L.A. 5758 Briefs
What Women Need to Know
Take the long-held image of a typical sisterhoodevent -- bagels and book review, a shmatte sale -- and toss it outthe window. Temple Beth Am'ssisterhood has something for everyone inDiscovery '98, "What Every Jewish WomanReally Needs to Know."
The all-day program, on Wednesday, March 18, willfeature a choice of morning workshops on everything from Judaism andpsychoanalysis to a history of Jewish music, from women and the lawto balancing family and work.
"Jewish women have different interests, differentneeds. And they certainly don't all think the same way," says FriedaOrner, who is chairing the event for the sisterhood.
Laurie Levenson, dean of academic affairs atLoyola Law School, will offer opening remarks, and Rabbi Laura Gellerof Temple Emanuel will speak on "Looking Forward to the 21st Centuryand Beyond."
Wednesday, March 18, 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., $25admission, $45 sponsorship, Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd.(310) 652-7353.
JTS Scholar at Adat Ari El
Rabbi Neil Gillman isn't interested in fancytopics. He just wants to talk about whatever people want to hear whenhe comes to Adat Ari El as scholar-in-residence this weekend.
Gillman, chairman of the department of philosophyat the Jewish Theological Seminary, is a prominent religious thinkerand author. He will spend the weekend leading discussions on God, thedilemmas of Conservative Judaism and the afterlife.
"The things he speaks about are exactly whatpeople need to be hearing in the Conservative movement," says RabbiJonathan Bernhard, a former student of Gillman's and assistant rabbiat the North Hollywood congregation. "He is willing to articulate hispoint of view and challenge people to formulate their own thoughts onissues of the day."
Friday, March 13, through Sunday, March 15,Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood. Call for times andprices: (818) 766-9426.
It Happens Here Too
Orthodox rabbis across the city are beingencouraged to speak on domestic violence next Shabbat, in an effortto make congregants more aware about -- and more comfortable indiscussing -- this topic. The Shalom Bayis Shabbos (literally, peacein the home) is coordinated by Nishma, an Orthodox hot line forabused women sponsored by Jewish Family Service.
The Nishma hot line number is (818) 623-0300.For more information, call (310) 285-0909.-- J.G.F.