You’ve heard of the Shabbat Project, or the Shabbos project, right?
In 2013, the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Warren Goldstein, came up with a simple idea. He asked every Jew in South Africa to keep one Shabbat. South African Jews are very traditional, but not many are Shabbat observant. The results were astounding. The idea went viral and thousands of Jews enjoyed Shabbat together. Then the rest of the world heard about it – and then it really went viral.
In 2016 a million people kept it together, in over 1150 cities from across 95 countries and 6 continents!
You can check out some of the energy from this global, grassroots movement at
Rabbi Goldstein, a dayan (judge) with a doctorate in human rights and constitutional law, was appointed Chief Rabbi in 2005 at the young age of 34, a clear vote of confidence in the future of the South African Jewish community. One of Rabbi Goldstein’s first projects was to create a community crime prevention force, to protect the community from the violent crime sweeping the country.
Rabbi Goldstein is passionate about the Shabbat project and is an eloquent speaker. He has spoken all over the world about how the Shabbat project can unite the Jewish world. He was invited to speak at Yeshiva University this month and added two days to his trip to the US to visit Chicago and promote the Shabbat project.
I met Rabbi Goldstein for the first time in South Africa in 2008 when I went on an amazing trip to South Africa with Rabbi Akiva Tatz and a group of students (see video below). I met him again a few years later when he spoke at the AJOP (Association of Jewish Outreach Professionals) convention in Baltimore. JET has been involved with the Shabbos project since its inception. His office contacted me to help arrange his trip to Chicago and it was my pleasure to do so, including the opportunity and honor to host him in our house.
Rabbi Goldstein arrived Sunday night after a long flight from South Africa. The weather wasn’t inviting but the people were. Over the course of two short days, he met a number of people from across the Jewish spectrum in Chicago’s Jewish community. He met Rabbi Yona Reiss, the Av Beis Din (head of the Rabbinic Court) of the CRC (www.crcweb.org); business people downtown; and the two Rosh Yeshivas of Telshe (pronounced Telz) Yeshiva.
From left to right (Rabbi Leonard Matanky, Rabbi of KINS and principal of Ida Crown Jewish Academy, Rabbi Yona Reiss, Av Beis Din of the CRC, and Chief Rabbi Goldstein)
He also spoke a few times. At the JCC in Northbrook, he spoke about the power of the Shabbos Project and encouraged us all to be “Spiritual Entrepeneurs.” The JCC was filled with many ex-South Africans but also members of the community who had participated in the Challah Bake last year or wanted to get involved this year.
Speaking at the JCC in Northbrook
The Chief Rabbi also spoke briefly at the Yom Haatzma’ut celebration at Ida Crown Academy.
He spoke at Hebrew Theological College (Skokie Yeshiva) about Leadership from a Torah perspective and quoted Rabbi Elya Meir Bloch, the late Rosh Yeshiva of Telz, who said you can only be a leader/ruler of others if you can rule over yourself.
The highlight for the Chief Rabbi was his visit to Telz yeshiva. Rabbi Goldstein learned for 15 years under the tutelage of Rabbi Azriel Chaim Goldfeiner in Johannesburg. Rabbi Goldfein himself learned at Telz Yeshiva in Cleveland for many years. Telz opened a branch of the yeshiva in Chicago over 50 years ago. Rabbi Goldstein has not visited Cleveland and this was his first visit to Chicago, so it was his first opportunity to see Telz in person. He visited the two Roshei Yeshiva, Rabbi Chaim Dov Keller and Rabbi Avraham Chaim Levin and also got to see some of the boys learning in yeshiva. Later he told me that it was worth the 17 hour flight just to visit the yeshiva.
With Rabbi Chaim Dov Keller
With Rabbi Avraham Chaim Levin.
Rabbi Goldstein has published two books, ‘Defending the Human Spirit’ and ‘The Legacy’. The latter, which he wrote together with Rabbi Berel Wein, famous historian, author and speaker, contains many of the teachings he learned from Rabbi Goldfein.
Here is an excerpt from Chapter 2, “Being a mensch”: The concept of being a mensch is multi-faceted, but can be distilled to three basic principles: derech eretz (appropriate behavior), middos tovos (good character traits), and, of course, the mitzvos bein adam lchaveiro (the actual commandments that relate to human interactions). These principles will be explained, but their common goal is to produce a highly refined, emotionally balanced and developed person, one who interacts with others sensitively and kindly and in a manner that brings honor to himself and to Hashem.”
Over the two days I spent with Rabbi Goldstein, I can truly attest that he epitomizes the definition of a mensch.