Some people express their love for Shabbat by lighting candles, other add a synagogue prayer, a meal and songs. Some love it through dancing, and others – like the Beit Tefilah Israeli organization ("Israeli Prayer House") – love it next to the sea.
Every Friday, hundreds of people gather on a hill at the northern part of the Tel Aviv Port to welcome Shabbat. The ceremony is conducted by Esteban Gottfried, who initiated it together with some friends.
Children are invited to light the Shabbat candles and break open the bread, and all participants say a prayer for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. Gottfried says a few worlds, and then – upon sunset – the participants welcome Shabbat like a real queen, with songs.
"It started out as a small event of several people seeking to welcome Shabbat in the nature, facing the sea," says Iris Bertz, marketing and development director and a member of the port's executive committee.
"They asked us for permission to welcome Shabbat with song and interpretations for the children, and hold the ceremony at the port. It soon became very clear that people were starting to gather round.
"And then the mats were replaced with chairs, songbooks were printed – and the number of participants today reaches 1,000. Beit Tefilah is responsible for the content, and we're in charge of the logistic side. The result is a peaceful ceremony, accompanied by melodies."
As almost everyone loves Shabbat, the crowd is very diverse. "It's the type of event that almost everyone can relate to," explains Bertz. "And because it takes place in the summer, when there are many tourists around, they usually join in and often add their own version of the prayers."
Does this reflect a social change?
"No. I think that many of us believe in a secular way. I believe that this need always existed, and we just found a place for it. People want this gathering, and our Shabbat welcoming ceremony is an even one can easily identify with and connect to.
"Apart from people who observe Shabbat, this event relates to any other level between secularity and Reform Judaism, and to those who simply enjoy the Shabbat rest, which is most of us.
"We take Shabbat and the prayer, bring them closer to people and let them enjoy it as it is. We are just allowing it to happen, and in front of the sunset and sea – it's the perfect place."
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