ShabbatUK saw synagogues and organisations across the country hold hundreds of events ranging from challah makes before the sabbath to communal Friday night dinners, and, havdalah concerts on Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night).
The Great Musical Challah Make, held last Thursday in the run-up to the sabbath, attracted close to 1,000 people to Allianz Park in north west London. The event was organised by educational and outreach organisations Seed and Chazak. Rebbetzen Joanne Dove of Seed took to the stage to help participants prepare their batch of dough, and singer Avi Kraus and band Soul Flame entertained the crowd with live music.
Rabbi Yitsy David of Chazak told the gathering: “The energy and power in the room tonight is palpable.”
Rebbetzen Dove, who spearheaded the first Great Challah Make in London in 2014, said: “It was extraordinary to look out into the hall and to see hundreds of women of all ages and communities who had come together to create unity in our community.”
Students from schools across London, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow took part in community and school events. The youngest registered volunteer was three years old who put flyers on every chair for 1,000 people in Kinloss United Synagogue.
To cater for the needs of participants with special needs, schools, synagogues and community centres held inclusive events where challah makes with sign-interpreted assistance to enable all participants to knead and braid their challot.
ShabbatUK worked with support charity The Judith Trust to create an inclusive challah-making guide to be used at the challah makes across the country. The recipes were laid out in the guide with explanations, pictures and directions.
Both Norwood Kennedy Leigh family Centre and Gesher School for children with special educational needs, hosted Challah Makes for students.
Penny Toubkin of support charity Langdon in Manchester said: “ShabbatUK brings the community together in a unique and meaningful way.”
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis paid tribute to a “quite extraordinary” ShabbatUK, as over 1,000 UK Jews came together on Saturday night for the final ShabbatUK event, a Havdalah concert.
He told the concert-goers at the Watford Colosseum that this year’s ShabbatUK had seen “close to 500 challah makes, people preparing for the largest ever shul dinners, thousands of people preparing for home hospitality events and extraordinary shiurim and lectures with talks given by some of the most outstanding minds in the Jewish world”.
Rabbi Mirvis added: “ShabbatUK is no ordinary fixture in the Jewish calendar. It is a phenomenon which inspires so many Jews across the country regardless of affiliation or level of religious observance. I have been so inspired to see how this year, parts of our community who have never previously taken part, have celebrated at events around the country. My sincere hope is that people take the message of ShabbatUK to heart, to become more inspired, proud and committed Jews.”
He also urged those who had taken part in the ShabbatUK celebration not to forget “that there are another 51 Shabbatot in the year”.
The audience enjoyed performances from the Portnoy Brothers band, as well as from the Maccabeats, the Jewish acapella group.
The celebration was almost cut short, however, when fire alarms in the venue were triggered and officials prepared to evacuate the crowd. Audience members reported smelling smoke, however, the source of the burning was found and dealt with, and the order to evacuate was cancelled.
Ashley Blaker, the religious Jewish comedian, was compere for the evening. He entertained the audience by describing how he had made fun of Shabbat UK as part of one of his comedy routines last year, after which he was asked to host the event this year. To laughter from the crowd, he said he hoped to repeat this technique with the Royal Variety Performance.
Speaking to the JC, the Maccabeats said that they were “very excited to be part of… this very special weekend which unites British Jewry”.
Anthony Arnold won the “Meet the Maccabeats” competition on the JC website enabling him and his wife Susan to enjoy free tickets for the HavdallahUK concert.