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March 20, 2014 2:42 pm

Tel Aviv Attempts to Set Guinness World Record for Largest Shabbat Dinner With 1,000 Jews (INTERVIEW)

avatar by Joshua Levitt

A view of Tel Aviv, Israel. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The city of Tel Aviv will host a Shabbat dinner that is expected to set a Guinness-certified world record for the largest Shabbat dinner in modern history if 1,000 Jews attend the Friday night event in June, to be held at Hangar 11, in the Tel Aviv Port.

The event will be hosted by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, Israel’s former chief rabbi, and other leading figures in Tel Aviv life. It is being sponsored by City of Tel Aviv-Yafo, Hangar 11, Golan Heights Winery, NakedSea Salt, and UK Toremet, plus public donations to raise the $25,000 needed to cover the cost of the meal. The dinner is free for all attendees.

The project is being organized by White City Shabbat, a group of local Tel Aviv residents who organize large Shabbat dinners in Israel’s “White City.” The group is led by Eytan White and Deborah Danan, who told The Algemeiner the story behind the audacious plan.

“For a long time we’ve been wanting to create a massive dinner to gain traction for White City Shabbat. The idea to get Guinness involved just grew from there,” Danan told The Algemeiner in an interview on Thursday.

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“We’re actually not breaking any record,” she said. “We contacted Guinness because there was no existing category so we are, in fact, looking to set the record.”

Guinness “did their own research and got back to us telling us we needed a minimum of 1,000 people to attend the duration of the meal” for the attempt to make the record books.

“To be honest, finding people to come isn’t a problem – finding money is another story,” she said, noting the event is being fully sponsored by individuals who donate via its crowdfunding campaign. “Every meal we host has over 200 people in attendance and another hundred on a waiting list so I think we’re going to go way over the 1,000 people mark.”

Danan said the idea was to draw attention to Tel Aviv “as the best place for young Jews to be in today and, more than that, to restore the beauty of Shabbat in what is primarily known as Israel’s secular city.”

Israel’s former Chief Rabbi Meir Lau, who is supporting the record attempt and made a video to promote it, said the city founders, including it’s first mayor Meir Dizengoff, understood the sanctity of Shabbat in Jewish tradition and emphasized it as being a symbol of solidarity for the Jewish people.

“We’re absolutely hoping that other communities around the world will try to break the record set by White City Shabbat. In fact, my dream is that within six months White City Shabbat has to give up the title because some far flung Jewish enclave went ahead and broke it,” Danan said. “White City Shabbat has restored the beauty of Shabbat to many people’s lives in an open and inclusive way and we’re hoping that communities will mimic our success.”

“Shabbat is the cornerstone of our faith, and when you have hundreds of Jews from all different walks of life in one room, the unity is palpable,” Danan continued. “At each of our monthly meals we attract Americans, Israelis, Brits, South Africans, French, Italians, – who are secular, religious and everything in between – and the one thing connecting them all is the desire to be with other Jews on the holiest day of the week.”

Danan said she became involved with White City Shabbat shortly after moving to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem and finding herself “stuck without a Shabbat meal.”

“I wondered how many other people had had this happen to them and decided I had to rectify the situation,” she wrote on the crowdfunding campaign site. “White City Shabbat was already in existence but there wasn’t anything happening with it. So, together with my co-director Eytan White, we got things off the ground and pretty quickly we were doing monthly meals. It’s now two years later and we’ve had more than 10,000 people come along for the ride.”

Danan said the concept of ‘Shabbat in Tel Aviv’ may “seem like an oxymoron, but of course it isn’t.”

“I recall being shocked at just how many Shabbat activities there were in Tel Aviv, more so than even Jerusalem it seemed! I think, though, my favorite part of Shabbat in Tel Aviv  – apart from our magnificent White City Shabbat dinners of course – is walking to synagogue on Shabbat morning,” she said.

“Suddenly the shul-going denizens of Tel Aviv come out from the woodwork – and sometimes they’re the people that you would least expect to attend prayers. They look you in the eye as you pass them in the street and wish you a Shabbat Shalom. That’s a rarity in Israel, especially in the cities, so the fact that it happens davka in Tel Aviv – the ostensible secular city – makes me proud to live here.”

Danan said attendees at the record setting attempt will run the gamut: “It’s like a tapestry of our people – we’ll have Holocaust survivors, olim [Jews who make aliyah to move to Israel], Israelis, secular, religious, members of Knesset, chief rabbis, mayors and truck-drivers all in one room, united by this gift of Shabbat that we all share.”

“I think that what happens after will be even more thrilling,” she said. “I truly hope that this event will spur other Jewish communities around the world to put the holy Sabbath queen on the pedestal she deserves.”

Natalie Solomon, a recent olah from Birmingham, Ala., and one of the event’s organizers, said in the statement to announce the record attempt, “At any given White City Shabbat dinner, you’ll hear about 10 languages spoken and World’s Largest Shabbat Dinner will be no exception.”

“We’d like to see Jews from all over the globe take part in this event, either to come and enjoy this spectacular demonstration of Jewish peoplehood in person or by donating to our fundraising efforts,” Solomon said. “After all, Shabbat is the soul of the Jewish people and Tel Aviv is a focal point of the Jewish world.”

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