By the time you read this, Shabbat UK 2015 will have come and gone, and already the grumbling has started. Of course, we have moaning built into our very DNA, as anyone who has even a passing knowledge of the stories in Chumash about the gratitude of the Israelites in the wilderness will attest. And yet, I just cannot help feeling that Mr and Mrs Grumpy have missed the point.
Let us briefly look at some of their arguments:
1. It's costing too much
2. The money could have been better spent on at least one extra Jewish Studies teacher in every Jewish school.
3. It's preaching to the converted.
4. It won't make any difference.
Well, I do not intend to answer each of these well worn tropes specifically. However, they do need some sort of a response, so here goes........ Firstly, neither you nor I know the cost of the total project and it is being underwritten and sponsored by some very well meaning individuals and groups, not just in the UK, but throughout the world. I cannot think of any other non festive event (and yes, I do know the sanctity of shabbat), by which I mean not a calendrically noted special date, which has captured so much Jewish community interest worldwide. For this, alone, the proponents and organisers deserve our praise. And of course, there is the 'pull' effect, so that schools and communities are adding to the 'basic model' with their own events and projects, for young and old, families and children. All of them are using resources, both human and material, which simply may not have been activated, had it not been for the existence of Shabbat UK.
Now, the argument about the money being better spent elsewhere is a weak one, too, equally as is the argument that money spent on one type of medical research would have been better spent on another. Of course, just as we are told that puppies are not just for Xmas, so Jewish Studies teachers are not just for one school year, or indeed one class. Even if the money could have been diverted, and we don't know how much has been spent nor how much these notional extra teachers would have cost (assuming that they were available, qualified and suitable) would schools have been prepared to accommodate the extra staff? And if they were funded just for this year, who would 'pick up the tab' in future years, knowing as we do how tough it is for many schools right now to raise enough through donations, year in, year out, to cover all the range of Jewish Studies, security and other activities which make our schools what they are.
The 'preaching to the converted' grump simply doesn't wash either. The fact that adverts are appearing on the sides of buses, butchers are offering Shabbat UK special meal deals, communities are reaching out to families and singles of all ages who would just not have a Shabbat experience at all, or only in a very peripheral way, is testament enough to the power of 'the group'. We are told that a three ply cord cannot be broken, so what about a many thousand ply Shabbat cord? I know of communities where 'house full' signs have been put up, as shul halls simply cannot accommodate any more diners on Friday night and families living some way from the shul offering to host complete strangers who, for whatever reason, cannot make the walk to shul on a cold and potentially wet Friday night. Schools are putting on all sorts of special events and activities for the parents and families, quite apart from the main events and we know that the Great Challah Make is sold out well in advance. I know of some shuls, a distance away from the Golden Triangle, running parallel challah making events. This simply would not have been in anyone's minds if it had not been for Shabbat UK. The whole community has been positively affected in one way or another.
So then what about the 'it won't make any difference' school of moaning? Well, you probably know the story of the girl on the beach, throwing just a few of the thousands of stranded starfish back into the sea who, when chided by a passer by that it won't make any difference, picked up one and, giving it a massive heave back into the waves, turned and said "well it did to that one". Neither you nor I will know what tiny difference Shabbat UK, or indeed the worldwide Shabbos Project will make to our 'Jewish Starfish'. And if Shabbat UK can be established over a number of years, the momentum can only grow. Two thousand years ago, in Pirkei Avot, we learned that although we cannot finish the task, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't make the effort.
So to all those involved in Shabbat UK, at what ever level, funders, volunteers, workers, teachers, participants and yes, even Mr and Mrs Grumpy, I raise a glass of kiddush wine to you all and say "l'chaim and Shabbat shalom".
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