The Shabbat Block Party: A Gala Kiddush
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The Shabbat Block Party: A Gala Kiddush

More than 1,000 people gathered in Toco Hills to celebrate Shabbat at a multicultural unity kiddush.

It was all hands on deck while preparing for the lavish, outsized gathering in Toco Hills at Congregation Beth Jacob as part of the Shabbat Block Party: A Gala Kiddush.
It was all hands on deck while preparing for the lavish, outsized gathering in Toco Hills at Congregation Beth Jacob as part of the Shabbat Block Party: A Gala Kiddush.

On Nov. 12, after Shabbat morning services, a massive outdoor kiddush was held for more than 1,000 Jews from all over the Toco Hills neighborhood and beyond. The event was held in Congregation Beth Jacob’s front parking lot, with six outsized buffets of international cuisines to celebrate diversity. The display of food was nothing short of amazing.

This Shabbat Block Party in Toco Hills was part of a global program that included synagogues from around the world. The Shabbat Project is an international grassroots movement designed to bring together Jews from all walks of life and all levels of observance to keep one Shabbat, celebrated in a spirit of global Jewish unity. On that one specific day, the various worldwide events included: 10 languages; 97 partner countries; 1,416 partner cities; and more than one million participants.

The concept is simple: Jews from across the spectrum, religious, secular, and traditional, young, and old, from all corners of the world, unite to experience one full Shabbat together. It is about creating a new Jewish future based on Jewish unity, pride, and values. It transcends the barriers that seem to separate us. It is our opportunity to rejuvenate family and community life, restore Jewish pride and identity, and strengthen Jewish unity across the globe.

Community members prepare for the festivities of the annual Shabbat Block Party in Toco Hills.

“Toco Hills is a special place renowned for its tight knit communal feel,” says Rabbi Yitz Tendler, executive director at Beth Jacob. “Even as our community grows, events of this kind make it possible to stay connected in meaningful ways.”

The Toco Hills Gala Kiddush Block Party had buffet tables marked for particular regions of the world, with curated foods from countries in that area. Kiddush tables featuring gallons of grape juice enabled people to recite kiddush whenever they arrived, and drink tables kept the crowds hydrated. Five different shuls participated in the cholent competition, but the cholent pots were scraped clean before the judges could have a taste…clearly, they were all winners!

Some of the international foods served at the Gala Kiddush were: brigadeiros, or Brazilian truffles; empanadas; plantain and yucca chips with Venezuelan salsa; kajool, or Afghani biscuits; khoresh, or Persian vegetarian stew; apple pie pastries; ghriba, or Moroccan walnut cookies; baklava; and many popular Israeli foods. The food was arranged according to region: South America, Israel, Europe, Asia, America, and the Middle East.

The super-sized kiddush was planned in just a two-week time span, a challenge that started in 2015 when Sybil Goldstein worked for Congregation Beth Jacob and was asked to coordinate the first Shabbat Project Block Party at the last minute.

Event chairs Sarah Faygie Berkowitz and Lydia Schloss hammered out the concept, and within days flyers were up, lawn signs out, and emails were sent to hundreds of synagogue members throughout Toco Hills. Cholent chefs were needed to represent each shul, volunteers for prep on Thursday, Friday, and Shabbat morning, and many errands to run. Thursday’s prep was done by the dedicated team of kiddush ladies who have been coordinating the Beth Jacob kiddush for decades: Betsy Cenker, Doreen Wittenberg, Sheila Bleich, Judy Cohen, Judy Kessler, Carole Feinberg, Suzi Tibor, Regine Rosenfeld, Doreen Wittenberg, Sharon Harris, Regine Rosenfeld, Robin Halpern, Barbara Fisher, Lynn Koffsky, Gillian Rosenberg, Helene Shleifer, and Donna Lund sliced hundreds of vegetables, plated pounds and pounds of cookies, and arranged chips, dips, and candies.

Community members of all ages, young and old, contributed to the festivities at the Shabbat Block Party at Congregation Beth Jacob on Nov. 12.

Beautiful floral arrangements were handled by Regine Rosenfeld and Barbara Fisher, with the help of Wendy Saul and Rozi Varon. Volunteers Rachelle Freedman and Donna Lund picked up dozens of buckets of flowers from several Trader Joe’s locations as part of the store’s Flower Share giveaway program.

Tova Eidex, a baker extraordinaire known for her creative custom cakes, prepared the apple pie pastries and brigadeiros, and middle school bakers Rena Pollock and Daniella Hachimoff whipped up hundreds of chewy chocolate chip cookie sticks for the crowds.

Shoppers included Yiskah Getty, Leah Pollock, Laura Bogart, Sheila Elkon, Michele Goldfeder, Leah Rodbell and Temima Perton hauling hundreds of boxes of food and drink for the event.

Many of the foods on the Middle Eastern table were prepared by Yael Perez and Odelia Khalili, and Shoshana Radford recruited an Afghani friend to bake khajool. Shevy Paley made four industrial-sized pots of cholent representing Beth Jacob, Bijan Afrah made vegetarian khoresh on behalf of Netzach Israel, Micha Katz was Ohr HaTorah’s chef, Shalom Teller represented the Chevrah, and Roman Khalili made Ner Hamizrach’s pot of fragrant cholent.

Shabbos morning saw a new group of volunteers, including half a dozen preteens who gloved up and got to work doing what needed to be done. Lydia Schloss managed the kitchen, and outside set up was done by Naomi Cohen, Mindy Caplan, Julia Singer, Devorah Berkowitz, Hineni Clementi, Lauren Castriota, Arielle Knapfo, Yael Perez, Odelia Khalili, Marcy Hachamoff, and Sheila Elkon, representatives of several shuls in Toco Hills.

Chief Rabbi Goldstein Atlanta, US, Shabbat Project 2022

At 11:30 a.m., a hush fell over the crowd and Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Cohen belted out kiddush in a booming voice, with a resounding and unified “Amen” from the crowd. And then, everyone dug in to enjoy the various tastes and treats offered. An hour later, at half past noon, the crowd was still thick with hundreds of people shmoozing and enjoying the fare, meeting new friends and old and lingering as long as they could to enjoy the unique camaraderie.

The organizers kept looking up and praying the dark clouds would hold off, and indeed, the ominous rain clouds passed, and the weather remained perfect throughout the event with nary a raindrop hitting the gathered guests. Several hours later when the last stray plate floated down Lavista Road and you could just make out a whiff of lingering cholent aromas, the weather finally turned cold, dark, and misty.

Some speculate it was the energy created by so many different folks coming together that kept it warm at the Gala Kiddush Block Party. Either way, the feelings generated by the unity kiddush left everyone who attended wanting more.

“Several people came over to me to say we should do this more often,” said Berkowitz, who spearheaded the event. “But it takes a tremendous amount of resources, so the plan for now is to leave it as an annual event on the week of the Shabbat Project.”

The team is already taking notes and planning for the 2023 Shabbat Project Toco Hills Gala Kiddush Block Party. If you’d like to be a part of the fun next year, reach out to Congregation Beth Jacob, the event host, to find out more at info@bethjacobat.

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