Eighty communities across the UK mark Shabbat For Israel

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Eighty communities across the UK mark Shabbat For Israel

Hostage families and other speakers engage with tens of thousands of people around the country.

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

The Empty Shabbat Table installation for the Israeli hostages held by Hamas at the JW3 Jewish community centre in Finchley. Credit: Vuk Valcic/Alamy Live News
The Empty Shabbat Table installation for the Israeli hostages held by Hamas at the JW3 Jewish community centre in Finchley. Credit: Vuk Valcic/Alamy Live News

Communities all over the UK showed their emotional investment in Israel last weekend by marking Shabbat For Israel, an initiative of the Office of the Chief Rabbi in partnership with the United Synagogue.

A spokesman for the OCR said that the project “was an incredible success, genuinely surpassing all of our expectations. Tens of thousands of people took part in events around the country where they were moved, educated and inspired in new ways”.

As part of the initiative, several London communities welcomed “a delegation of courageous hostage family members from Israel, the spokesman said, adding that “the feedback both from them and the shuls has been amazing. They will return with a clear message, that their family is our family, and we will hold each and every one of them in our hearts until they are safely returned home”.

Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis said: “We were so gratified by the response to Shabbat for Israel, which reflects the desire of so many people across our communities to express their solidarity with the people of Israel in such challenging times. The feedback that we have already received suggests that the experiences of this Shabbat will remain with many people for the rest of their lives”.

Not every one of the 80 communities believed to have participated confined their events to Shabbat. Many communities, from Manchester to Cardiff, invited other special speakers and educators, all of whom had extraordinary experiences to share and messages to convey. Others held special tefillot, community-wide meals and uplifting Havdalah events.

Among the latter was Cockfosters and North Southgate Synagogue, which marked Shabbat for Israel with acapella group Kippa Live, attracting more than 100 people.

The Israeli group led a Havdalah service and performed many familiar Israeli and Jewish melodies. Members of Kippa Live had been on army service in Gaza and one member of the band spoke about his experiences. Cockfosters members also heard from a former Londoner now living in the southern city of Sderot, giving the latest news about what was happening on the ground in the Gaza border towns..

Cockfosters Rabbi Meir Shindler said: “The event was both reflective and uplifting. Kippa Live brought a fantastic feel-good musical blend of both thoughtful and joyful songs, bringing an atmosphere of Jewish unity and connection to Israel.”

Members of the hostage families were similarly struck by the events they attended. Gili Roman, brother-in-law of hostage Carmel Gat, spoke at Ealing Synagogue, and said: “This initiative of Shabbat for Israel has been very powerful and moving.”

Yehuda Cohen, father of hostage Nimrod Cohen, visited Hendon. He said: “I want to really thank you from the bottom of my heart. It is not trivial what you did for us. It always reminds me that we are not alone.”

Orit Meir, mother of hostage Almog, visited Borehamwood and said:“You have such a warm and embracing community. I felt a lot of love. You moved me a lot and I really appreciate it. I’m waiting for the moment when I come to visit with my son”.

Bushey United Synagogue shared their Shabbat with Yaakov and Or Bohbot, family of hostage Elkana Ben Ruchama. The community also welcomed for Friday night, guest .speaker, Bracha “Beatie” Deutsch, a Charedi runner, who spoke to 170 people about becoming Israel’s national marathon champion.

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