But this year, observant and non-observant Jewish girls and women broke down barriers and stereotypes about one another, in a way not fully experienced previously.
While showing a table how to braid a six-strand challah, event volunteer Nechama Schechter struck up a conversation with an attendee who identified as a Conservative Jew. Schechter, who is Orthodox, fielded questions from her tablemate about the practical ways an Orthodox lifestyle works for a family of six children where both parents work and Shabbat is observed. Trust and the seeds of friendship grew as the conversation progressed.
“It was a great opportunity to learn about each other,” Schechter commented. “The ladies at my table became comfortable asking me questions about how Orthodox people manage everyday things.” For example, the idea that Schechter’s neighbors would take her kids into their homes right off the school bus if she was not home, without phone calls or a prior arrangement, was a foreign notion.
Some at the table brought up the feeling of being judged by the Orthodox residents in their towns. “It was wonderful for us to be able to talk about it and to dispel those ideas. At the end of the conversation, my new friend actually said to me, ‘you’ve restored my faith in humanity’!”
Adina Fishlewitz, who has planned and coordinated the four LI Challah Bakes, heard this kind of warmth and sharing throughout the night at many tables, and said walls of religious stereotypes were broken down.
“Yes, it’s true that we live different kinds of lives, but this experience gave a glimpse into the opportunities a more observant Jewish lifestyle can offer,” she said.
“The relationships and support in the Orthodox community, those not living it cannot believe it exists.
“Today’s society is so disconnected, and everyone feels like it’s normal to live that way. This year, the Shabbat Project’s theme was ‘Islands of Time,’ the idea of carving out special times in your day and week to think, be grateful, regenerate, and appreciate human relationships. Jews who keep Shabbos make time to connect with their families and neighbors and support them. Perhaps those who don’t may embrace it.”
The high school girls were a big part of creating the atmosphere.
“They were incredible, dancing and pulling everyone in to join the dancing, and exchanging phone numbers with their table-mates,” Chani Wolowik said.
Fishlewitz said that this year’s event was, without question, the best yet. “With 1,350 people in the Sands Atlantic Beach, it was a completely full house.”