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Where should you spend Shabbat if you’re in Kiev?

The co-organizer of the Kiev project “Shabbat Host” Rabbi Mordechai Neuwirth on the features of national Jewish hospitality

If you live in Kiev or happen to be passing through and don’t know where to spend Shabbat, then contact “Shabbat Host”. Whether you’re religious or secular, observe Shabbat or have only heard about this day that is important for every Jew, whether you’re alone or with friends – it doesn’t matter. At “Shabbat Host” you can always expect a great family and “spice” for dishes which you can only experience on Saturday! In a warm family circle, the most joyful houses of the Ukrainian capital gladly reveal the mystery of the Shabbat tradition to every Jewish participant of this project.

The history of the most hospitable Jewish project in Kiev will be discussed today by its co-organizer, Rabbi Mordechai Neuwirth. And next Friday you can read about the subtleties of preparing to meet the Saturday guests – one of the first participants of “Shabbat Host”, Inna Markovich, will tell us all about it.

Rabbi Mordechai Neuwirth came to Kiev with his family in 1998. He taught Judaism at various institutes, and at the same time brought together the Jewish youth of the capital. He is the author and reader of many interesting cycles of lectures on Judaism, and a welcoming host. Everyone who has ever visited him for Shabbat leaves his house feeling elated and spiritual, with a supply of energy and positive thoughts to last the entire week.

His pupils and guests of his house call him Rabbi Moti. He grew up in an observant family, every week of his life he has celebrated Shabbat, and can tell many amazing things about this day that is important for every Jew! But every time he himself is amazed by the majesty of Shabbat.

One of the tastes of Shabbat that Rabbi Neuwirth remembers

Recently we visited Venice and spent Shabbat in a rabbi’s family. Around 100 people were seated at the table! It was the most diverse group you could imagine: from super-secular to the most devout Hasidim. They all sat very closely together. First I just observed: I wondered what sort of meal it would be, for the guests at the table had almost nothing in common! And after Kiddush, something magical began to happen – people started talking freely. Five minutes went by and everyone laughed, talked and got to know one another… I had never seen anything like it!

The rabbi asked me to say a few words, and I said: “Venice is called the city of bridges, for it has many of them. And they are not just physical. Here at Shabbat we have seen how solid bridges are built between people.” Initially we thought that we would quickly have something to eat and leave, but in the end we stayed there until it was late. This atmosphere of unity was incredible: everyone sang their own Shabbat songs (Moroccan, Yemeni…) Shabbat is like glue that connects and binds the most different people!

The idea of Kiev hospitality with a Jewish spirit

“Shabbat Host” was the initiative of young businessmen who contacted me because they wanted to provide members of the Jewish community with the opportunity to feel truly Jewish without having to enter synagogues, Jewish organizations or institutions. For a secular person (who does not observe Shabbat, and knows little about Jewish laws and traditions) may be intimidated, stopped or embarrassed by this factor. Many people think: where am I going? This is an unfamiliar situation…, I don’t know anything or anyone at the synagogue, I don’t know what to do there. I wanted to find a way to help people overcome all of these fears. Today no one remembers whose idea the “Shabbat Host” project was, but it has now been working successfully for three years!

What is “Shabbat Host” today?

It is about people who invite Jews to spend Shabbat together in a relaxed home environment. The beauty of this organization in Kiev lies in the fact that the project is independent of the school of Judaism to which the guest belongs. Shabbat has identical and clearly established rules for everyone! It is this project that gives the widest possible opportunity for novices to observe, to help to feel what “Jewish life” is, and in a warm, relaxed atmosphere to feel the “spirit of Shabbat”. Undoubtedly, traditions in each family are different, every home has its own features. Over time, guests choose which families they feel closer to: by their spirit, religious features or general topics for discussion. Sometimes Saturday meetings turn into firm friendships.
Today, through “Shabbat Host”, over 2000 invitations have been made, and this means that over 2,000 people have spent the day of Saturday in a friendly family circle. And not only from Kiev, but from other cities and countries: people have written to us on Facebook that they are coming to Ukraine, and ask if we can help them to celebrate Shabbat. Our answer if of course YES!

The uniqueness of Jewish guests in Kiev

There is a similar project in America, Shabbat.com, which covers thousands of cities and unites countries. Our project is unique in that it is only “slightly” present online. “Shabbat Host” has a real volunteer who helps guests to find the family that suits them. In its three years of existence, thank G-d, in Kiev alone we have had 25 participating families join us. The only thing that unites them all is that in each of the houses there is Shabbat. Of course, among them are families of rabbis, but there are also businessmen from various spheres, bankers, lawyers etc. who receive guests for Shabbat. There are participants who share common spheres of activity with the host and other guests. It is always pleasant when there are common topics at the table besides Shabbat.

I will give an example. A guest of the project who worked at a radio station had wanted to meet one of our guests for a long time, who was the owner of a major media holding (today this person lives in America). We organized a “Shabbat Host” for them, and they finally met. After Shabbat the guest was delighted. He said: “To meet this person in everyday life, you need to wait months. And here, just imagine, I came to his house, and after five minutes in the family atmosphere, we were already talking like friends!” There is nothing surprising about this, for Shabbat is a unique day, and it creates an atmosphere in which a person can ask questions and see what a Jewish family is like. This is an informal but very effective way of learning about Judaism from within, to feel the “light of Shabbat”.

A good example is catchy!

The project increases the feeling of the communality of the Jewish people, gives an understanding of community, and influences Jewish meetings, marriages, friendship and faith…

Today “Shabbat Host” not only exists in Kiev, but in Donetsk, Odessa and Dnepropetrovsk as well. Undoubtedly, we hope that with each new Shabbat the number of hosts and guests will increase, and the area of the project will expand. This project is good because it is non-commercial, and does not cost anyone anything. All that is needed is a good family and guests.

Hostes is about:

— families that celebrate Shabbat at home
— they want to share the spirit of Shabbat and share the sacredness of this day with guests;
— they have the desire to receive guests. For some these guests will be the first Shabbat in their lives, they do not have the experience of observing it, or they know nothing about Shabbat. But they have the most important thing – the desire! The host takes on the responsibility.
— To become a guide for a novice into the amazing and as yet unfamiliar world of Shabbat. But the project also has guests who have observed for a long time, who sometimes simply want to spend Shabbat outside of their home or synagogue, in a large group. And also people who go to Ukraine on business, or simply go to another city and want to spend Shabbat in a home atmosphere.

— families that want to fulfill the commandment of “hospitality” as best they can.

Recommendations for the guest:

• Feel at home, but don’t forget that you’re a guest; [Rabbi Neuwirthj okes]
• If you come to the meal with a telephone, it would be great if you don’t forget to turn off the sound. But of course, ideally you should come without a telephone;
• Plan enough time for the meal, but don’t offend the hosts by leaving early;
•. If you know that you won’t be able to spend so much time as a guest, then try to warn the receiving side about this. When they know this in advance, the hosts will speed up the time for holding the meal, and your Shabbat will be full, and won’t end in the middle of the traditional Saturday meal.
• Try to prepare an interesting Shabbat story. You will be able to hold a conversation at the table.

You can easily also become a guest at the next Shabbat! Warm Jewish homes will always open their doors on Saturday for every guest.

Contact number for the “Shabbat host” project administrator in Kiev: 096 214 86 00 (Yulia)

Join the Shabbat Host group on Facebook, subscribe to our page and choose a family to spend Saturday with.

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